Tribeca Film Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | April 24, 2013
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Writers: Felix Van Groeningen (adaptation), Carl Joos (adaptation), Johan Heldenbergh (play, The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama), Mieke Dobbels (play, The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama)
Starring: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg, Nils De Caster, Robbie Cleiren, Bert Huysentruyt, Jan Bijvoet, Blanka Heirman
There are some really sad Bluegrass songs out there, but none of them come anywhere close to the morose depths of The Broken Circle Breakdown. Let’s just say that it starts with the realization that Elisa (Veerle Baetens) and Didier’s (Johan Heldenbergh) 6-year-old daughter (Nell Cattrysse) has cancer, and it all goes downhill pretty quickly from there.
The Broken Circle Breakdown thankfully takes a cue from Blue Valentine and offsets the horribleness of the present with flashbacks to the idyllic happiness of the recent past. If we were to reorganize the film into linear form, it would start with Elisa and Didier’s first meeting. Elisa tries to convince Didier to get a tattoo while Didier tries to convince Elisa of the significance of American Bluegrass music. By the end of the conversation, Didier’s enthusiasm wins Elisa over. It is not long before Elisa is fronting Didier’s Bluegrass band… They are hopelessly in love… They get married… Elisa accidentally gets pregnant… They finish renovating the old house on Didier’s ranch… They have a baby… They have never been happier…
Then the cancer rears its ugly head in their daughter, and Elisa and Didier’s relationship is put through the wringer. The severe sickness of a child causes adults to either grasp onto religion or abandon it completely. So, as things go from bad to worse, Didier’s atheism becomes more and more pronounced; Elisa, on the other hand, becomes increasingly spiritual. Around this time, George W. Bush cuts the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research in the United States. The same man who is willing to kill innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan finds it to be against his religion to support embryonic stem cell research — and advances in stem cell research could have very easily saved their daughter. Suddenly, Didier’s favorite country is now his least favorite. Religious people become increasingly ridiculous in Didier’s rapidly deteriorating sense of rationality.
Felix Van Groeningen’s film is not an easy one to recommend because no one should ever have to witness a 6-year-old child as she goes through cancer treatment. Nell Cattrysse is so astounding in this role, though that makes it all the more difficult to watch.