A Different Country
A film unlike anything you’ve seen, The Broken Circle Breakdown begins with five bearded guys wearing Stetsons and playing guitars, fiddles, and banjos. They’re arranged in a circle around a microphone and singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Are they from Tennessee or Kentucky or even Texas? No, because a title card informs us that we are in Ghent, Belgium, and the next scene shows us the lead singer Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) talking to his daughter in Dutch.
Apparently, bluegrass music is rather popular in Belgium, and Felix van Groeningen’s musical was so popular in its country that the band created for the film stayed together and went on tour. The film is based on a stage play co-written by Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels. (Oh, to have seen that play in Bruges or Antwerp!) The story skips back and forth in time as Didier meets tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens) and brings her into the band as a singer, and the couple marries, has a baby, and then watches as their daughter (Nell Cattrysse) becomes gravely ill. The film eventually becomes a rather endless wallow in misery, but it features terrific acting by the two leads and great performances of songs like “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” and “Country in My Genes.” This award-winner at the Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals plays at the Modern this weekend.