Author: Carlin, Larry

A film review of "The Broken Circle Breakdown"

Over the decades there have been monumental movies and TV shows that have featured bluegrass music and really helped put the genre in the spotlight, with The Beverly Hillbillies TV series and the films Bonny & Clyde, Deliverance and O Brother, Where Art Thou? being the big four. The new film from Belgium called The Broken Circle Breakdown has lots of fine bluegrass music in it, but oh brother, it is even darker than Deliverance, and Jed Clampett and Granny would be rolling over in their graves if they were still alive today to see this story on the big screen.

Banjo player Didier leads a bluegrass band in the town of Ghent, Belgium, and he lives on a farm that looks like something in West Virginia. Right at the start he and his wife Elise are dealing with the horrific news that their little seven-year-old daughter Maybelle – named, of course, after country and bluegrass legend Mother Maybelle Carter – has cancer, and from that point on, you get a sense that this is not going to be a happy film. Suddenly the story flashes back seven years earlier to happier times, when Didier first meets the pretty young tattoo maven Elise while strolling by her shop, and they start talking about music. Didier says he loves America, even though he has never been there, and Elise says that “Elvis was the greatest.” Didier replies, “No, Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, was the greatest.” He then invites her to go and see a bluegrass band that he knows of that will be playing nearby later in the week, and when she does, to her surprise she sees Didier picking the banjo and singing the classic song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with his band on the stage. Next thing we know, in short order, Elise is moving in with him, singing with the band, and she becomes pregnant. Then we’re shifted back to the present, and without giving away too many details, things take a turn for the worse with Maybelle, the story devolves into a tragedy of breakdowns in communication and of the mental variety, and, if you can imagine, then goes even further downhill from there.

Broken Circle also touches on the subjects of politics, religion and science, with stem cell research being one of the underlining themes, and it also has some steamy sex scenes that you don’t normally find in a movie with a bluegrass soundtrack. And the editing of the story is a bit confusing at times, as it takes a while to figure out if the story is still in flashback or in the present.

Best takeaway lines: When asked why he plays the banjo, Didier says, “I’m too stupid to play the guitar and too dumb to play the mandolin.” And, “I used to be a punk rocker. The banjo kind of snarls, which reminds me of punk.”

The music is the real star of the movie, as the band plays “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Over in the Gloryland,” “If I Needed You,” “Country in My Genes,” “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies,” and the aforementioned “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Oddly, not all of these songs made it on the official soundtrack.

This is not a fun film for the family to see, but if you are feeling down as the holiday season approaches, you’ll probably feel a lot better about yourself after seeing The Broken Circle Breakdown. While the performances are good, and the soundtrack and the tattoos are great, this film is probably not going to make it onto anyone’s must-see list.

Larry Carlin
Movie Magazine International
November 20, 2013
Posted:  11/22/2013

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