“The Broken Circle Breakdown” steeps in challenges. Adventurous movie goers should consider seeing it for that reason alone. Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, there’s the basic challenge of subtitles, although some of the dialog and all of the songs are in English.
The songs do quadruple duty. They are well performed and entertaining. They are integral to the story. The lyrics reflect the story. They provide a soothing counterpoint to the intense content and structure of the film. What makes the songs part of the challenge is the peculiarity of a Belgian band playing Bluegrass music to European audiences in this Belgian movie.
Long hair and beard fit the Bluegrass-loving man, but his look takes some getting used to as the grounded and sensitive lead character in this love story. A rash of tattoos fit the Bluegrass-loving woman, but her lead character look also takes some getting used to in this thoughtful family drama.
The scenes bounce backward and forward in time, demanding discerning attention, but the juxtapositions speak to the emotional depth of two people who meet and marry and parent, who love palpably, who mesh professionally. The hardest work watching “The Broken Circle Breakdown” is relating to two people who suffer as only a dying child can make a couple suffer. The six-year old with cancer buoys the story without it feeling like script manipulation.
A political rant is the film’s only challenge that qualifies as a misstep. As a wail of pain from a grieving father and husband, it does fit the storytelling. Maybe it is intended to temporarily paralyze the film. Anyway, it counter-productively slaps the evocative rhythm of a small picture otherwise filled with unassuming confidence.
With human beings, the circle is always broken, but that doesn’t stop it from being a circle.