The Belgian entry for Best Foreign film, Broken Circle Breakdown, was exceptional in almost every aspect. It was a very powerful, moving film which will likely linger with me.
The story is of a tattoo artist meets Bluegrass artist, falling in love, getting married, having a daughter who later meets with an unsavoury disease. While not a feel-good movie, it kept from crossing over to maudlin by moving back and forth in time, showing happy times interleaved with sad times. In keeping with the harmony permeating the Bluegrass soundtrack, the lows were very low but the highs were almost ecstatic.
Acting from the two leads was extraordinary. Compacting a 7-year relationship into several hours is challenging but Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens brought the nuances, good and bad, to life and head-butted me into reflection and introspection as I watched them come together and come undone.
Writing was brilliant and the story evolved in believable manner with emotionally packed dialogue almost anyone could easily superimpose onto their own life. Its in the writing that I had a small problem and that was the politically-fueled injection of GW Bush and his misguided decision to halt stem cell research for ‘moral reasons’. I get the character’s obvious outrage over religion interfering with science and how that related to his daughter’s disease. However, it was a diatribe that seemed inconsistent for what was otherwise a zoom-in on one family’s evolving relationship and the way they handled adversity.
It surprised me to hear Bluegrass music in a Belgian film, I don’t equate the musical style with the country. It surprised me even more to know that the lead actors were also the lead vocalists for the soundtrack. The music was a proxy for the sentiment in this film; the simultaneous highs and lows in the harmony, the upbeat rhythms and instrumentation paired with lyrics soaked in regret and anguish. I liked the soundtrack so much, I downloaded it from iTunes whilst in mid-movie. Odd, considering I don’t much care for Bluegrass.
I’ve only seen two of the films nominated for Best Foreign but this one far outshines the other. If it wasn’t for the injection of religion vs. science, this film would have dethroned 12 Years A Slave as my favourite for 2013.