Starring: Veerie Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
The title refers to the old country standard May the Circle Be Unbroken, and it’s country music which forms the unexpected backdrop to this quirky and touching film from Holland. It recounts the plight of Didier (Jodan Heldenbergh), a quietly spoken farmer and banjo hobbyist with a passion for Appalachian bluegrass music, and Elise (Veerie Baetens), a tattoo artist who’s been around the block a few times – an odd couple who find themselves living out a tale of heartbreak the equal of any country song.
Taking its structure from a county ballad, the film cuts back and forth between present and past, looking at the highs and lows of their relationship – the first flourishing of their love; the bond tightening as Elise joins Didier’s country band and duets with him on stage; the unexpected gift of a child, Maybelle, and then the love being crushed out of them by misfortune as they discover that their beloved daughter has cancer.
It’s a film that deals in the sort of raw emotions that Hank Williams or Patsy Cline would have sung about, but director Felix Van Groeningen handles everything with a light touch, and the two leads are pitch perfect. Country fans seeking out this movie might grumble about the extent to which the music takes a backseat to the drama, but they should be mollified by the lovely soundtrack, with various standards such as I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger and Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You performed beautifully by the cast.