By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 23, 2013)
The Kingdom of Belgium is renowned for its Flemish painters and chocolatiers, but its thriving bluegrass scene has been perennially overlooked. Until now. Once meets Scenes From a Marriage in a generally well-acted but somewhat overwrought 3-hankie mellerdrama called The Broken Circle Breakdown.
If you love the sound of banjos, mandolins, and fiddles, topped off by them good old-timey close harmonies, you may be more receptive to this little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane…I mean, Kris and Rita…sorry, Elise and Didier, two Flemish kids livin’ in the low lands.
One fateful day, Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) a banjo player in a bluegrass band, waltzes into a tattoo parlor, where he Meets Cute with the fetching, well-inked proprietress, Elise (Veerle Baetens). When he asks her who the “greatest musician of all time” is, she says Elvis. Pshaw, says Didier, the correct answer is “Bill Monroe”. Who? she says…and they’re off.
Technically, I’m getting ahead of myself, as director Felix Van Groeningen (who co-adapted the screenplay with Carl Joos) elects to use the flashback/flash-forward device we’ve seen in similarly non-linear romantic relationship narratives like Two For the Road, Annie Hall, (500) Days of Summer and the aforementioned Bergman film.
We strap in and join Elise and Didier for a ride on the roller-coaster of Love, Marriage and Parenthood over a period of 9 or 10 years, through sickness and health, good times and bad times, joy and sorrow (mostly accentuating the sickness, bad times and sorrow).
The musical performances by Elise and Didier’s bluegrass outfit (The Cover-Ups of Alabama) are heartfelt (I’m curious if the actors actually did their own singing and playing). Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the drama.
The story runs wildly off track once someone has a grief-induced onstage meltdown, resulting in a bizarre political rant that seems to have party-crashed from a wholly different narrative. I’m not the world’s biggest country and/or bluegrass fan, but in this case, I could have used less soap-and more Opry.