Movies You Missed & More: The Broken Circle Breakdown | Live Culture

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: The Broken Circle Breakdown

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM

  • Courtesy of Tribeca Film

This week in movies you missed:
Is bluegrass the saddest music in the world? This Oscar-nominated love story from Belgium might make you think so.

First, a local note: You can see The Broken Circle Breakdown on the big screen in Burlington next Thursday, presented by the Burlington Film Society, the Vermont International Film Festival and Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center. That's March 20, 7 p.m., at the Main Street Landing Film House. $5-8, free for VTIFF members. More details here.

What You Missed

The film opens with banjo player Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and his bluegrass band singing the standard "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" (Characters in this movie speak in Flemish and sing in English.) The next scene, set in a hospital, shows us that Didier's circle will not be unbroken. He and his wife and bandmate, Elise (Veerle Baetens), are preparing their 7-year-old daughter for chemotherapy.

Director Felix van Groeningen uses a nonlinear narrative to tell the story of these two free spirits who settled down, became parents and too quickly found themselves facing the unthinkable. From Didier and Elise tending young Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) in the hospital, we flash back to a night that might have been her conception. We don't see the couple's first meeting — at Elise's tattoo shop — until we've grasped its long-term consequences.

The movie juxtaposes moments of bliss with moments of despair, as Didier and the volatile Elise struggle to weather events. It's all glued together by their performances of heartfelt standards — songs seeped in the faith in God and an afterlife that this modern couple finds it all but impossible to feel.
  • Courtesy of Tribeca Film

Why You Missed It

You may have caught TBBB during a one-week run at the Savoy Theater. It's now on DVD and Amazon Instant, but looks (and sounds) good enough to merit a big-screen viewing.

Should You Keep Missing It?

As noted last week, I'm trying out a new 20-point, highly scientific scale for my assessment of indie films:

1-4 points: Does it look pretty?
4/4. TBBB often looks like an arty family's carefully tended Facebook or Instagram feed come to life. It's full of candlelight, rich hues, ornate tattoos (which snake all over Elise's body) and attractively dilapidated buildings.

Indeed, the early scenes of Maybelle frolicking with her parents in their restored farmhouse annoyed me in precisely the way a too-perfect family's Facebook feed would. Then I realized that these scenes are bathed in an idealized haze because they're the couple's memories. The present is far harsher. The film's structure mimics a mind seeking consolation in the past.

1-4 points: Does anything happen?
3/4. Last week I argued that Adore isn't a "melodrama" because nothing happens in that film. TBBB is a melodrama in the classic Hollywood sense — a "weepie" in which things happen, many of them bad. Let's put it this way: Crying at movies isn't something I do. This time I did.

1-4 points: Does what happens make sense?
2/4. Did I think the film's ending was manipulative and not entirely necessary or believable? Yes. Was I crying anyway? Yes. Why? Maybe because the movie matches its music. It's like one of those hard-luck, only-salvation-in-heaven ballads that you can imagine an Appalachian miner composing as an act of schadenfreude.

Based on a stage play by Heldenbergh, the script interweaves the couple's story with events such as 9/11 in a way that too often feels heavy handed, but that's a minor element of the story.

  • Courtesy of Tribeca Film
1-4 points: Do the characters seem like real people? Failing that, do they look pretty?
2/4. This is hard to score, because the actors in TBBB have a charisma that makes it easy not to notice that their characters aren't all that well fleshed out. It's surprising how little we learn about Didier and Elise.

Yet you believe they're a family, because their interactions with Maybelle are beautifully acted (by all three) and genuinely touching. You believe in Didier and Elise's chemistry and in the anger they express in different ways when things break. Baetens may not be the world's greatest singer, but she's a mesmerizing presence on stage or off, giving tenderness and fire to each musical interlude. You may find yourself wanting to protect Elise (as Didier does) even as you feel a little scared of her.

I don't know much (or anything, really) about country music, but for my money, Baetens singing "Country in My Genes" with a Euro-twang is far superior to Gwyneth Paltrow's much-praised performances in Country Strong.

1-4 points: Does the movie give us a reason to care about anything happening on screen?
4/4. For me, yes.

Verdict: 15/20. TBBB is a "romantic film" in the best sense of the word: It's all raw nerves, emotion and vitality. Cooler heads may not be so impressed. All I can say is that this film sold me on bluegrass for the first time ever. If an ex-punker farmer in Ghent and his tattoo-artist lover can relate to this music, why not me?

This Week in Theaters

We already knew Jesse Pinkman had a Need for Speed, didn't we? This time that means fast cars. Also at multiplexes, Tyler Perry returns with a Single Moms Club.

At the Savoy, Roxy and Essex, check out The Wind Rises, the latest from animator Hayao Miyazaki. It's extraordinarily beautiful, it's not for children (unless they don't mind a slow-moving biopic), and it may piss off people who remember World War II.

This Week in Your Living Room

The Book Thief, Homefront, Inside Llewyn Davis, Out of the Furnace.

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Related Locations

The Wind Rises (Kazetachinu)
Rated PG-13 · 126 min. · 2013
Official Site:
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy, Mae Whitman and Jennifer Grey

Now Playing

The Wind Rises (Kazetachinu) is not showing in any theaters in the area.

  • About The Author

    Margot Harrison

    Margot Harrison

    Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.

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