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film review

The Broken Circle Breakdown as its candidate for best foreign language film for the 2014 Oscars.

Traditional bluegrass songs of loss and grief provide the inspiration and score for this innovative Belgian, Flemish-language musical drama. Like the Irish film Once, it's a drama about the lives of musical performers who sing songs within the film to illustrate the emotional journey of a relationship. Broken Circle, though, is painted in much darker hues. The movie begins in a Ghent hospital where parents Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens) are told by doctors that their six-year-old daughter, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), has cancer. We flash back to seven years previously, when Didier and Elise first became lovers. He's a bohemian cowboy, living in a trailer while renovating a farm house; she's a free-spirited tattoo artist from town, who inked over the names of lovers when she found a new one. As the relationship progresses, we shift back and forth, juxtaposing moments of old joys and fresh sorrows. When their worst fears come true, Elise sinks into depression and reaches for faith, while the atheist Didier grows angry with religion and all things American. Heldenbergh, who co-wrote the play that the script is based on, and singer-actress Baetens, offer an affecting portrait of a couple in crisis, though the script's second half slides from naturalism into melodrama as the filmmakers struggle to resolve this epic downer of a story.