starring Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg
screenplay by Carl Joos & Felix Van Groeningen, based on the play by Johan Heldenbergh & Mieke Dobbels
directed by Felix Van Groeningen
by Walter Chaw Felix Van Groeningen's The Broken Circle Breakdown eventually loses impetus and becomes political theatre, but until it does it's exceptional melodrama, raw and emotional. It walks the fine line for a while, staying just this side of exploitation in its alinear tale of a little girl who gets cancer and her parents--how they met, the aftermath, and then the far aftermath. The film's central event, then, isn't the child's fate, but rather the meet-cute of the parents, with squarish Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) asking about Elise's (Veerle Baetens) tattoos in the parlour where she works. A bit shocked, and maybe titillated, that each has a story of a different man attached to it, he invites her to, essentially, come see him perform with his bluegrass band in a tiny club down the way. Van Groeningen, working from an original idea and stage play by Heldenbergh, adroitly alternates the events of the film with Didier's band's songs; in other words, The Broken Circle Breakdown owes a greater kinship to Cabaret than to Once--even though, at its best, its intent leans more towards the personal than the political. This means, of course, that once it becomes more political than personal, it also loses its rudder and balance. Already, effortlessly, about so much, it stumbles badly when it tries to be.