Monday, March 17, 2014

Let's Review Something: The Broken Circle Breakdown

I’ve spoken a lot here (and elsewhere) about how there are few things that touch me deeper than the love of or for a child.  Being a parent, I can’t help but feel a very strong connection to stories about that love, whether those stories are told on the printed page, through song or on celluloid.  It’s a visceral reaction.  I can’t restrain myself.  I just get it.

A few years ago a certain film came out of nowhere and really took me for a loop.  That film was ‘Declaration of War’.  Equal parts artistic and stylized and gritty and earnest, that film was about as complete a tail as one could get.  Chronicling the effect that illness has on two parents as they struggle to find answers and reach a happy ending, the film literally (and figuratively) took my breath away.  Thankfully, Valerie Donzelli (who wrote, directed and starred in the film inspired by her own personal experience with her young son) knew how to cut all the realism with a honest humor that made the film not only impactful emotionally but an easy watch.  Despite the obvious sadness that permeated the core themes, the film was such an easy watch.

When I heard a friend liken ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ to the aforementioned masterpiece, I was heavily intrigued.

‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ tells the story of Elise and Didier, two drastically different individuals who fall deeply and dangerously in love.  The film breaks down the timeline of their relationship (portraying it in fractured vignettes) and shows their love sparking, blossoming and then consuming itself in a violent (figurative) climax when their young daughter is diagnosed (and subsequently overtaken) with cancer.  In the wake of this tragedy, their relationship and, more notably, their beliefs are brought to a boil, especially when Didier’s staunch atheism begins to corrode their relationship, especially since Elise is firmly religious. 

For me ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ presents us with a very intriguing and thought provoking narrative, but its grasp exceeds its reach in many instances, and the finale feels like a cop out of sorts; a lazy attempt to wrap up all the film’s themes without really coloring anything in.  Being a very religious man, I’ve often found solace in the idea of faith, hope and belief.  While staring down any hardship or tragedy, there is a layer of hope that comes from my personal beliefs that help me to get through those moments, those segments in life.  I’ve had many conversations with my wife about the beauty of faith in our lives, because I can’t imagine the internal torment I’d feel if I had none.  What ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ had the opportunity to deliver to us was a balanced look at both sides of the spectrum; the dealing of grief by those with and without faith.  Instead, we get a lot of screaming and crying and blurred lines (or no lines at all) and a finale that feels incredibly forced and dishonest to the conversation that the film seemed like it was attempting to start.

I’m all for the dissection of faith, the lack thereof and the impending force that is doubt, but find ways to shade it and not just throw it at the audience and expect us to be moved by it or even begin to understand the point you’re trying to make.

I also did not feel that the narrative structure of the film helped at all.  Telling the story in such fragmented pieces was a distraction.  Having a scene of their daughter’s sickness bleed into the moment they met bleed into Elise’s pregnancy bleed into their blaming one another for the loss of their daughter bleed into the time Didier proposed bleed into Elise being rushed to the hospital isn’t clever, it’s messy.  I’m all for stylistic narratives, but have it serve a purpose. 

This just all felt haphazard. 

Yes, it hits you emotionally and it does raise some sound arguments (although the Elise’s religiousness is mostly kept ignorant until the very end, where it feels like an easy way out).  I honestly had to turn the movie off last night because I couldn’t emotionally handle it (laying on the couch at near-midnight with my three year old daughter, who is nursing the flu, is not the ideal time to watch a child’s casket being lowered into the ground) but after finishing the film this morning it became obvious to me that emotional attachment to the themes was not enough to make this a good film.  I expected more depth out of this film, to be honest, but instead of getting inside Didier’s head all we saw was him vent and instead of underlining what exactly it was that Elise believed, all we did was see her cry and so the supposed ideals that this film claims to (or flirts with) exposing are merely left there hanging.

Why speak of them if you’re ashamed of fleshing them out?

I give this a C-.  I really expected more.  The acting, music and cinematography is really nice, but overall this was a missed opportunity.


  1. Hmm... The reaction to this film seems to be divided. I'll definitely see it at some point, but I'll try to keep my expectations down.

    1. The reaction is really divided. I know some who LAUD this, and I was almost prepared to in the beginning, but the balancing act of personal beliefs is butchered to such a point that I'm not even sure anymore what point the film was trying to make.

  2. I've been watching for this one too, but I'm glad I read your review, because like Josh, I'll try to have lower expectations. Of course, if it has sick and dying children, I'll be a wreck. You're right. Being a parent will do that.

    1. It's all in the ending, which was really messy.

      But MY GOD prepare yourself for tears!

  3. This is a really great review. Even though I liked the film much more than you, you articulated your points clearly and earnestly, which I always appreciate. Whenever I see a film as narratively fractured as this one, I always ask myself if the movie would be better in chronological order. In this case, I honestly think it might be. I did love the way this was put together, but I'm not sure it was entirely necessary. The 11th hour religious thing kind of threw me for a loop as well. But that ending... I found so much power in that final shot. Really floored me.

    1. Thanks Alex. Yeah, the more I think about this, I think that the narrative structure was the film's downfall. Had it been told in chronological order, I could see the religious issues being fleshed out much better as well, but as they are presented they felt out of place and underdeveloped.