Film review: The Broken Circle Breakdown

Like the bluegrass-singing male lead of this film about love and loss, Flemish director Felix Von Groeningen has taken a huge amount of influence from the US in constructing his artistic work, so much so that you can’t resist the impulse to glance up at your calendar and ask yourself if it’s Oscar season again already. This is not a testament to quality (the Oscars never are) but to the film’s attempt at so much overblown tragedy it just has to tweak the sentiments of the Academy.

The film makes liberal use of leaps through time, the kind that certain international filmmakers have gone mad on since it became the go-to American style with Pulp Fiction. Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) is obsessed with the US and despite his singing in a bluegrass band he is a cold hard atheist who likes to go on corny rants when the mood takes him. Elise is the mother of his child, whose tattoos supposedly replace any need for her to develop a character over the course of the film. We witness their first encounter, their going out, singing together, having a child, the child getting cancer and the post-death fallout, in no particular order.

The two leads throw themselves into their characters and their performances threaten to bring real life to them but never manage to pull the trigger. Instead we’re stuck in a maze of tears that overpower the more genuinely tender moments, themselves awkwardly handled, making for an overall tone that is many times more disjointed than the narrative. What the point of the film is supposed to be is either too complicated to make any sense of or so simplistic that it hardly needed to be said. Either way it’s buried under an ending that contains some weird symbolic death-oath that is not nearly as touching or as tragic as it’s supposed to be.

Where things go wrong is hard to pinpoint. The beginning of the film when we witness Didier and Elise’s Eden-like existence is rather well done and the music is naturally very appealing. It’s possibly the whole weepy concept of a child with cancer that pushes things over the edge, a difficult issue to handle well and usually best avoided. Too much reversion to cliché kills this film before there is any real life breathed into it.

Stephen Murphy

Released at The Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin from Friday 08 November 2013. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie.

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