Nominated in the Best Foreign Language category at this year’s Oscars, winner of the Audience Award at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival and winner of the European Parliament’s 2013 Lux Prize, Felix van Groeningen’s tale of love and loss is a rare effort that’s won over critics and audiences alike.

Based on a much-celebrated theatrical work, The Broken Circle Breakdown is the story of romantic atheist and bluegrass musician Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and free-spirited tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens) who, despite their differing worldviews, fall deeply and madly in love. The beautiful restraint in the portrayal of these first heady days of their courtship is masterful and would make anyone enviable of the onscreen goings on.

When their beautiful daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) unexpectedly comes into their lives, initial fear and trepidation turns to joy and ultimately brings Didier and Elise closer. It’s when Maybelle becomes ill that the couple’s deep love for each other is challenged, not just by their trying circumstances but also by their opposing spiritual views.

There are many aspects that set this film apart from a standard relationship drama. In particular, the skilful editing and non-linear plot development allow the story to unfold in unexpected and fascinating ways. A killer soundtrack of stirring country and bluegrass covers also gives this film a unique edge, very much along the lines of the 2005 Jonny Cash biopic Walk The Line.

Ultimately, The Broken Circle Breakdown is the best kind of heartbreaker and a sorrowfully beautiful film, with highly likeable and sympathetic characters, even when they’re at their worst. Van Groeningen shows a genuine desire to explore the human condition. Like the music the characters love so much, it really does hurt so good.

4/5 stars

The Broken Circle Breakdown opens in cinemas Thursday May 15.

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