"Broken Circle Breakdown": Bluegrass Brings Heartache to the Unsuspecting People of Belgium

Felix Van Groeningen's Broken Circle Breakdown portrays a kind of relationship dynamic that isn't often seen in movies, particularly American movies — so it's fitting that it is a Belgian film, one which examines the influence of American culture and politics on the rest of the world. The picture jumps freely around the timeline of the relationship of punky tattoo-aficionado Elise (Veerle Baetens) and bluegrass-aficionado and wannabe-cowboy Dieder (Johan Heldenbergh, sporting the fakest-looking beard since Thomas Bo Larsen's in The Hunt) as they come together, start a family, and lose it all. The soundtrack is wall-to-wall bluegrass, including several performances from Elise and Dieder's band, and while there are intimations of A Star is Born-style strife — channeling Kris Kristofferson would justify Heldenbergh's horrible facial hair, at least — Broken Circle Breakdown goes in a different direction, pondering whether a couple can survive under great emotional stress when they have very different ideas about religion, and what it means to sing a Christian song like "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" when you have every reason to distrust the religion it glorifies. Van Groeningen's camera is smitten with Baetens' inked flesh, and the tattoos are central to the film's marketing, but if the audience comes for the skin and stays for the music and the drama, so be it.

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