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Film Review: Broken Circle Breakdown
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Broken Circle Breakdown
Director: Felix van Groeningen

Here is a film where bluegrass music takes on a role of its own. Didier (John Heldenbergh) plays banjo in a band. He lives outside of town in a mobile home while trying to renovate an old house. When he meets Elise (Veerle Baetens), who owns a tattoo parlor, it is love at first sight. The relationship is stormy, but intensely compassionate, and, once a child is born, the stability for a family seems to be in place in this unconventional lifestyle. When their daughter Maybelle develops cancer, the relationship between Didier and Elise is then truly tested.

At the Berlinale 2013 press conference, Heldenbergh explained that he wrote the stage play, which is similar to the movie. He says that this work with bluegrass music has taken on a life of its own. He now has a bluegrass radio station; this type of music has really hit Belgium with full force. In the movie the music is not only background, but conveys the unspoken feelings of the characters.

Heldenbergh seems to be multi-talented. Not only did he write and act, but he taught himself how to play the banjo and plays in a band as well. He never knew that there would be such enthusiasm for this kind of music in Belgium. The film seems aesthetically beautiful and raw, which is partly due to the skimpy clothing of the actors. Heldenbergh said that he asked at one point, “Why do we need someone responsible for wardrobe when we aren’t wearing clothes in most of the scenes?” They certainly did pick an actress who can wear her tattoos well. Strangely, director Felix van Groeningen commented very little but said he was happy with the final results.