This Belgian entry for Best Foreign-Language Film is an ambitious, out-of-sequence fairly visually extravagant drama buoyed by its Bluegrass harmonies and strong acting.
Felix Van Groeningen's The Broken Circle Breakdown (adapted from a 2009 play and in Flemish with English subtitles) does break down a bit from its melodramatic trappings; yet the despondency from its tear-jerking nature is lifted by its lively, mellifluous interludes.
It involves the ups and downs of feisty tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens) and hirsute, seemingly low-maintenance, less spiritual bluegrass Ghent-based group topper Didier (Johan Heldenbergh). She is just the thing for his life at this time and they make beautiful music and a child (Nell Cattrysse) together. An idyllic, sweet existence is devastated by their daughter's diagnosis of leukemia.
Gritty imagery combined with narrative and temporal shifts in coping with tragedy hits a crescendo with a grating political rant on stage but finally leads to an unusually palliative emotional conclusion. Many will find the maudlin, manipulative nature of the storytelling a bit of a struggle for what is an obvious message.
But how Broken comes full circle (as one is reminded of the framing device of The Lion King) can mitigate its misgivings and trying ways from the honest, passionate interaction of Heldenbergh (looking like a more youthful Kris Kristofferson) and especially Baetens who deservedly won an European award for her richly, moving portrait.
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