VOD film review: The Broken Circle Breakdown
James R | On 06, Jan 2014
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Cast: Johan Heldenberg, Veerie Baetens, Nell Cattrysse
Watch The Broken Circle Breakdown online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
“If I needed you, would you comfort me?”
That was a question asked 30 odd years ago by Hank Williams – but never like this. The Broken Circle Breakdown follows the trials of Elise (Beatens) and Didier (Heldenberg). She a religious tattoo artist, him an atheist with a taste for country music, they fall in love immediately and she ends up joining his group – The Broken Circle Bluegrass Band. That’s when things go wrong.
Things keep going wrong for 110 minutes: their child, Maybelle (the adorable Nell Cattrysse), gets cancer. Their relationship ends up on the rocks. And that breakdown of the title? Didier goes right for it. This is, without a doubt, the most miserable film with which to start 2014; it’s like watching Blue Valentine with music. Bluegrass Valentine.
The cast embrace it: Veerie Baetens, who co-wrote the script, is gut-wrenchingky damaged, even changing her name to Alabama as she tries to make a fresh start. Johan Heldenberg is equally emotional, spitting anger with intensity before taking it out on his banjo.
Director Felix Van Groeningen takes a similar approach to Derek Cianfrance’s romance, cutting back and forth between the early relationship and its final, sputtering embers; a balance that introduces hopeful laughter before bringing it crashing back down to the ground. His use of bold colours turns the time-jumping take into a blur of red and blue emotions – one scene at a hospital, where everything flashes before our eyes, is hugely powerful.
The story comes alive, though, on the stage: performed by the cast, the songs range from flirtatious to forlorn – but their impact stems from their diegetic nature. These are songs sung by the characters, not lip-synced to other artists. So when they start up “If I Needed You” halfway through, it’s a direct question from one to another. The Broken Circle Breakdown is as much a heart-wrenching examination of loss and pain as it is about our relationship with music and how we rely on it to get through them. That fact makes this one of the best soundtracks and films about music in recent years – and makes Hank Williams sound newer and more relevant than ever.