The Broken Circle Breakdown

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“Ultimately [it] is about the power of music as a spiritual force, a vital way to help us through the hard times.” 

Year: 2012
Country: Belgium
Running time: 111 mins
Censor Rating: M - content that may disturb
Genres: Love stories

Producer: Dirk Impens
Screenplay: Carl Joos, Felix van Groeningen. Based on the play by Johan Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels
Photography: Ruben Impens
Editor: Nico Leunen
Production designer: Kurt Rigolle
Costume designer: Ann Lauwerys
Sound: Jan Deca
Music: TBCB Band, Bjorn Eriksson
In Dutch and English, with English subtitles

With: Veerle Baetens (Elise), Johan Heldenbergh (Didier), Nell Cattrysse (Maybelle), Geert Van Rampelberg (William), Nils De Caster (Jock), Robby Cleiren (Jimmy), Bert Huysentruyt (Jef), Jan Bijvoet (Koen)

Festivals: Berlin, Tribeca 2013

The Broken Circle Breakdown’s most novel aspect is its musical setting. Unfolding over several years, the story revolves around the relationship of snaggle-toothed banjo-plucker Didier who plays in a hot bluegrass band called The Broken Circle Breakdown, and vivacious blonde Elise (Veerle Baetens). Like him, she’s an outsider and rebel – she works in a tattoo parlour and loves to show off as much of her own flamboyantly-inked body as possible. After a blissful courtship, Elise is invited to join the band…

Conventionally enough, this blend of romance, melodrama and musical starts at the beginning of their relationship, when they’ve just met and he takes her back to his trailer home outside a scruffy rural property – as close as he can get to the US boondocks while living in rustic Belgium. Along the way they get married and face dramatic life challenges following the birth of their daughter. What’s less conventional is the shuffling of the order in which these events are depicted…

The musical performances sprinkled throughout this happy-sad tale are not only lively but surprisingly authentic, very much in the same musical vein as living US bluegrass legends Alison Krauss & Union Station (whose ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn’ gets a thoroughly infectious workout early on). Indeed Baetens’ singing voice is so outstanding I initially made the error of thinking Krauss’ vocals had been dubbed…

The music isn’t just some colourful add-on, an adjunct to the drama, rather it’s an integral force in a story that ultimately is about the power of music as a spiritual force, a vital way to help us through the hard times.” —Lynden Barber, SBS Film