“Life is not generous.”
It may not be surreal and ultraviolent like Dogtooth (and this certainly isn’t a measure of quality), but The Broken Circle Breakdown is undoubtedly one of the oddest Oscar nominees in recent memory. Beyond that, however, there’s something else – it just simply isn’t that great.
Usually, this is the kind of film I could really get into. Use of flashbacks! Music! Emotion! It’s like another Blue Valentine (which you probably know by now I love)! Aside from some good performances and music though, that’s where the comparisons end. Instead of heartwrending realism, documentary-style photography and avoiding of sentimentality which leads to valuable emotional payoff, overall making for an incredibly moving and beautiful experience, Broken Circle goes for the easy, cheap shots of getting an audience member involved.
This is the main weakness here. When a film makes you cry, it’s best if it’s for a reason, instead of just trying to claw its way into your heart. I found myself sobbing brokenly at a handful of scenes, and was feeling suitably depressed after, but not like it actually meant anything. I was just crying because it was raining, they were singing that song, in that place, at that time. Nothing else. It’s like being cheated into sadness, you get pushed and pushed over the edge into feeling something until you can’t take it anymore and burst.
However, this leads to an awful lot of spelling out every plot point (seriously, I understood the title in the very first scene, now move on), leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. Regardless of the script’s failings being a result of bad subtitles or not, there is some truly awful, contrived and on-the-nose narrative turns here that make for some of the most eyeroll-inducing scenes of 2013. Throw all of this in with some restrained editing until the last ten minutes, where Van Groenigen throws all remaining caution to the wind and finishes with a sequence so truly odd and out-of-place I still don’t know how to describe it, an excellent performance from Veerle Baetens, and some music which saves the film, and you have one odd film that puzzles as to how it was a crowd-pleaser to academy audiences. Go figure.
The pursuit for absolutely no sugarcoating of the events could be perceived as almost admirable if it wasn’t so manipulative. In this age of softening blows with almost everything in sight, it should have been refreshing to come across a film like Broken Circlewhere there is literally no comfort in the final frame. Instead, I just wished they’d bite the bullet and just get rid of everyone.