The Broken Circle Breakdown

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on February 05, 2014

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Dear Liesbeth de Wilde
Stage Manager

Dear Liesbeth,

The best bands always seem to have the biggest drama. The Beatles. Fleetwood Mac. The Police. Oasis. Their tumultuous off-stage relationships not only fueled media interest, though - they also fanned their artistic flames. Most groups, however, will simply fizzle away or completely implode when relationships become strained. The titular band in The Broken Circle Breakdown is certainly in that latter company, though their core dilemma in the film is more unbearable than most. Their foreshadowed collapse, were it not fictional, would also rank among the greatest hits of musical meltdowns.

But let's start when things are at their best for the Broken Circle Breakdown - on stage. Using non-linear editing, we open on a performance of this Belgian bluegrass band in a sweaty, underground club. They look and sound perfectly American, but the twang in their harmonized accents is just part of the show. Lead singer Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) in particular, is completely infatuated with U.S. culture, even living on a farm that could pass for rural Alabama. He's building a home with the band's co-lead singer Elise (Veerle Baetens) and their cancer-ridden young daughter. As the story slides back-and-forth like the playing of a steel guitar, one moment we're with them at their daughter's side in the hospital, and the next we're witnessing her conception in the back of a pick-up truck.

Unlike the irrepressible pace of their music, the story off-stage is more reflective and interested in silences. Elise and Didier start to question life's injustices and adopt very different philosophies to cope with their pain. In private, they manage to be mostly civilized in their discussions. But on stage, their schism starts to take root and become apparent. Until, of course, it becomes undeniable - and painfully uncomfortable.

Luckily, as an audience we often get to return to those beautiful musical interludes. And it's your simple stage direction that helps us decode exactly where we are in their timeline - whether they are joyously sharing a mic at an intimate venue, or awkwardly spaced out across a grand stage in matching - but soulless - white outfits. These physical manifestations of their evolving careers and relationship also hint to some of the film's larger existential questions. From the earthy tones of their early wardrobe, reflecting their roots in the underground music scene, to their unlikely and unexplained heavenly rise to stardom (or at least, a sold-out amphitheatre) in tailored white suits. We aren't given details about how it happened, much like the characters themselves aren't given answers to why events happened in their own lives, but I was pleased to see where they ended up.

Clapping from the back,


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