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  Broken Circle Breakdown, The Unforseen Circumstances
Year: 2012
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Stars: Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg, Nils De Caster, Robbie Cleiren, Bert Huysentruyt, Jan Bijvoet, Sofie Sente, Ruth Beeckmans, Jan Hammenecker, Blanka Heirman, Kirsten Pieters, Yves Degryse, Dominique Van Malder
Genre: Drama, Romance, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: June 2006 in the Belgian city of Ghent, and in a hospital a family are there since their six-year-old daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) is suffering from cancer and must be treated if she is going to survive. Her parents are putting a brave face on things in front of the girl, but it's a struggle because they are understandably very worried, though as Elise (Veerle Baetens) tells her partner Didier (Johan Heldenbugh), they have agreed not to cry when she is in the room with them: save that for when she is asleep. They are both members of a bluegrass band, with Didier singing and playing the banjo and Elise just singing, having joined up after they fell in love before Maybelle was born. But these are testing times...

The Broken Circle Breakdown was what used to be known as a "weepie", where the audience were invited to get something out of their systems by watching a tale of woe specifically designed to have the tears flowing. Whether you found such experiences cathartic or whether you considered them too manipulative to work their charms on your emotions was very much a personal choice, but there was no doubt director Felix Van Groenigen, here adapting a stage play, had a lot invested in his story and characters and no matter how melodramatic proceedings became - and they did grow very melodramatic indeed - the inherent sincerity of getting to grips with tragedy was there for all to see.

The plot flitted around the entire relationship of Dider and Elise from beginning to end, with the aching sadness in the middle which influenced how we regarded the entire thing, working backwards to colour the inception of the love affair and forwards into the inevitable strain such an issue brings to the bond they shared and thought would never be, well, broken - it's all there in the title. Obviously with the main contention being the afflicted child, there was no way this could not be emotional, yet it went very far in plunging both the characters and the audience into utter misery, perhaps, it could be argued, too far in light of how this was wrapped up. There were some viewers who cried watching this from beginning to end, which is what the director presumably wanted.

However, he had bigger fish to fry as well, as if what happens to Maybelle was not big enough as it was. One of those was to bring the pleasures of high quality bluegrass music to the audience, as ths could almost double as a musical, not because people burst into song as a way of communicating but because every so often we join the U.S.A.-loving Didier and Elise on the stage as they perform. She only joined after demonstrating she could sing, having previously been the owner of a tattoo parlour when she met Didier, and her own body is covered in designs which she modifies throughout; although she knew nothing of the music he loved she was a fast learner and you get the impression there's nothing they like better than to be making tunes in perfect harmony in front of a crowd.

Well, there is one thing they like better, and that was the reason Maybelle was born, but that important connection between to people which seems nothing will tear asunder such is its strength proves far more brittle than they could ever have imagined when events take an agonising turn. It is here Van Groeningen brought out his agenda, and that was an anti-religious one which was not an entirely snug fit with the tearjerking and heartstring tugging, but nevertheless smuggled in a few points about certain religious values that hindered medical research, an area that could save the little girl, and how they were essentially far from the show of morality and decency they claimed to be. There is a scene late on in the film where Didier takes over a concert to rail against religion which does stop the movie stone dead, no matter how heartfelt the message it was conveying, and does make it come across as an issue delivery device rather than an emotional journey, therefore what happens after that may seek a middle ground, but it's the anger you take away. Music by Bjorn Eriksson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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