‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ weds music to harrowing tragedies

Verrle Baetens and Jonah Heldenbergh play musician marrieds with bad luck in "The Broken Circle Breakdown." Caption: Tribeca Film
Verrle Baetens and Jonah Heldenbergh play musician marrieds with bad luck in “The Broken Circle Breakdown.”
Caption: Tribeca Film

‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Stars: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the Belgian import “The Broken Circle Breakdown” fills out a good chunk of its running time with the performance of old roots music. Unlike “O Brother” — an eccentric riff on Greek myth only the Coen Brothers could dream up — it’s a heavy, often brutal melodrama that tortures its nice characters with unending unpleasantries. Not for nothing are there two forms of “broke” in the title.

It starts off nice enough. Aggressively tattooed singer Elise (Veerle Baetens) goes to the remote farm home of aggressively hairy banjo player Didier (Johan Heldenbergh). Their happiness doesn’t last long. No sooner have they made the beast with two backs does the screenplay jump to years later, with our lovebirds in a hospital, doting on their young daughter, who’s sick with terminal cancer.

Is this another movie where parents battle against the odds to keep their child and their love? Only some of the time it is. The first half jumps back and forth between Elise and Didier’s early life. No sooner do we get used to watching them get married, building up his tattered house and performing in a popular band does the script pull the rug out from under us, throwing us back to the nasty present.

Things get far worse in the second half, which becomes one of those endurance tests where you wonder how horribly the filmmakers — including Heldenbergh, on whose play this is based — can hurt its heroes. The time-jumping soon becomes more aggressive. A major event not revealed in full till the end is shown around the midway point, forcing the viewer to spend the remainder of the film wondering at what point the story will catch up to it and reveal exactly how bad it is.

This is effective if dubious filmmaking, ratcheting up emotions by gruesomely manipulating them. It would be cheap if the filmmaker didn’t mean what they were saying. They do. They want their story to have the poetic depths of one of the songs the characters sing, which tell of anguish and pain but do some in melodic, comforting and deeply felt ways. And the leads give anguished but nuanced performances. Heldenbergh, in particular, is fantastic, playing his increasing yen for rants against politics and religion as an off-shoot of his helpless anger. They help keep things recognizably human.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.