November 19, 2013 -- This story about a Belgian cowboy and his tattooed wife living on a farm and performing in Belgium's best bluegrass band should have been a comedy. It is an inherently funny concept. Unfortunately it veers off into tragic events which are so overly melodramatic in nature that the movie is almost funny, but not quite. This film has some beautiful music and attractive actors, all trapped in an ugly plot.
The title of this film is taken from the old standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” This is one of a number of bluegrass and gospel songs performed beautifully in the film. These are songs with healing power and comforting power, but they give no comfort to the tortured lives of two performers in the band at the heart of this film.
Didier Bontinck (played by Johan Heldenbergh) is a bearded Belgian cowboy musician living on a farm with pigs, cattle and chickens, really. He falls in love with a tattooed woman, Elise Vandevelde (Veerle Baetens). She falls in love with him as he explains his passion for bluegrass music created by his hero, the legendary Bill Monroe. Didier is the lead singer and banjo player in a Belgian bluegrass band (it must be the best one in Belgium), which Elise soon joins. She is a very talented singer and becomes the lead singer in the band.
Didier and Elise get married (this is like Johnny Cash getting married to Lady Gaga. They live at the farm with their child, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse). Life at the farm is idyllic and the band is successful. So where is the tragedy? Imagine, if you will the worst things that could possibly happen to Didier, Elise and Maybelle. Got that image? Well, that is pretty much what happens in the film. I won't go into the gory details because you probably don't want the spoilers.
Anyway, there is a lot of terrible anger and a lot of sorrow arising from some awful events. The message that one character takes from this plot is that life is so awful that a person should never love anyone because of the pain of the inevitable loss. You would have thought that somewhere along the way someone would have said that love is what gets us through the inevitable tragedies of life.
Different people deal differently with the fact that everyone who is born will die, sooner or later. To some, this fact makes life inherently tragic. Others come up with a variety of alternative conclusions. In this film, one person decides life is tragic, but upon adopting this view, the action taken by this person involves inflicting as much emotional damage as possible on the people who love this person the most. This is one of the film's central tragedies.
Another related tragedy is that the people who made this film decided to attempt to inflict this same sort of emotional pain on the audience. Now I don't mind if someone thinks that life is tragic, that's his own business. It starts being my business when I watch a film which tries to impose this view on me with. The Coen brothers could have made this same idea into a much better movie along the lines of “Raising Arizona” combined with “O Brother Where Art Thou?”
The idea of this film seems to be to throw a whole kitchen sink full of tragic plot lines up on the screen. In addition to the rest of the kitchen sink, Didier goes into political and anti-religious monologues at home and right in the middle of a music concert! This scene is so far off the wall it looks like it was spliced in from some other movie. I don't know what movie this belongs to, but it doesn't fit very well in this one.
Anyway, this film rates a C. The only reason to see it is the wonderful music and attractive, talented actors.
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