I get worried when I feel emotionless at the end of a movie like The Broken Circle Breakdown.
Felix Van Groeningen’s drama didn’t make me feel depressed to a point of numbness. In fact, he wants his audience to feel high levels of emotion more than anything. The film offers a lot to smile and cry about with its themes of love and loss, and a lot to tap your toes to during those musical sequences. Groeningen’s film is a hybrid of both Blue Valentine and Once. As interesting as that may sound, Groeningen’s work goes in one ear and out the other.
Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens play a convincing couple in this story of freely falling head over heels and then learning how to cope with “the real world” once the honeymoon phase is over.
Not only do the two actors have chemistry during happier times and through more somber stretches, but it’s simple to sympathize with them once their circumstances seem to take on bleaker turns.
What one might not expect from The Broken Circle Breakdown is its constant use of music. Country and folk tunes are used as a tool for escapism. Each song is sung with great force and high energy, and it helps that the vocal talent have incredible pipes.
The film deals with keeping up a facade when reality isn’t being too kind. To the in-film audience watching these performances, they would not expect such sadness behind the bouncy tunes and the exceptional stage presence. To us, we can see that line between their escape and the bitter truth begin to blend into each other up until its explosive climax.
Back to the original conundrum. Why was I feeling nothing by the credit crawl? It all comes down to the film running too long and overstaying its welcome.
The Broken Circle Breakdown uses a non-linear approach utilizing many flashbacks. While this is unique and intriguing at first, it grows tiresome when the film’s narrative gets too jumpy. The purpose behind its storytelling loses the initial intention of wanting to tell The Broken Circle Breakdown this way – wanting to give that feeling of reliving the best parts of the past. Instead, it ends up giving in to the gimmick of having a movie that has an unusual way of explaining itself.
There’s heartbreaking imagery in The Broken Circle Breakdown that’s very touching and respectfully well done – such as scenes dealing with a sick child and learning how to move forward. Ironic enough, those moments are then held onto far past an evoking point and you wish Groeningen would move his film forward. He isn’t milking the audience for tears or laughter, but he’s still foggy on how long to play our heartstrings for.
The film clocks in at just under two hours and I can’t help but wonder if the film would’ve been stronger had it been shorter. As uplifting and emotional as they are, if the musical numbers had been trimmed down as well as some of the scenes that feel as if they’re helping the film transition to another point, The Broken Circle Breakdown wouldn’t have felt so ponderous and dry.
The Broken Circle Breakdown is a film adaptation of a play conceived by Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels. Some productions are better left on stage – with an intermission in tact – and don’t necessarily make a smooth step to the big screen. I look forward to watching the play one day, hopefully leaving the auditorium feeling something more than I did here.