The Broken Circle Breakdown

(Belgium, Netherlands, 2013, 110 mins, DCP)
Cast Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg, Nils de Caster
PROD Dirk Impens
SCR Felix van Groeningen, Carl Joos
CAM Ruben Impens
ED Nico Leunen
PROD DES Kurt Rigolle
MUS The Broken Circle Breakdown Band
PROD CO Menuet / Topkapi Films
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Bring along all the emotional support you can muster to get you through this topsy-turvy love story; a boisterous, heart-wrenching movie that will have you smiling through your tears.

Didier (Johan Heldenbergh)—a self-proclaimed Belgian cowboy—lives in a caravan and plays in a bluegrass band. This isn’t a gimmick; he loves the music and respects the sorrows that inspired the Appalachian dirt farmers to pick up guitar and fiddle in the first place. All this he communicates to Elise (Veerie Baetens) with an ardour she can’t resist. Covered in ink, this kindred bohemian spirit moves in with him and starts singing with the band. They have a daughter, Maybelle (after Maybelle Carter). But their happiness is shattered when the girl is diagnosed with leukemia.

Director Felix van Groeningen (The Misfortunates) cuts across the chronology of events, juxtaposing the first rush of passion with dire moments at the sick bed; joyful elation and rock bottom despair. And throughout, he weaves in the hopeful, faithful, plangent sounds of traditional American folk music, performed with irresistible enthusiasm by a misfit band of bewhiskered Belgian hillbillies, and serving as a kind of chorus to the turbulent trials that befall Didier and Elise’s union. In the words of the hymn that gives the film its title: There are loved ones in the glory/Whose dear forms you often miss/When you close your earthly story/Will you join them in their bliss?/Will the circle be unbroken/By and by, by and by?”

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