The Broken Circle Breakdown

is a very American romance. It is also a very European tragedy. For Flemish couple Didier and Elise, the dream of America is that you can pick up, move on and become new anytime you want. From her stars-and-stripes bikini and naive proliferation of tattoos to his punk-rock homesteading—he raises livestock and welds metal—their version of Ghent, Belgium, might as well be Chapel Hill, N.C. It is a means of escape, a New World dream of freedom that isn't theirs. It isn't anyone's, really, but it lives for them in the mournful notes of the old-time bluegrass they sing together. Felix Van Groeningen's film obligingly moves according to the sweetness and sadness found in the songs of Bill Monroe, washing back and forth in time between the couple's first tentative stabs at love and the eventual heartbreak of watching their daughter suffer from cancer. Their flailing efforts to cope show the history-free American dream to be a cruel farce, but the film's nonlinear structure helps it resist simple sentimentality, with ecstasy and sorrow mashed up as in a hill-country harmony. And despite ham-fisted forays into Bush-era politics, what remains when the movie fades is that same music: the hard loss, the longing for the infinite, and the transcendent love for the finite that together form a life.

Critic’s Grade:

SEE IT: The Broken Circle Breakdown opens Friday at Fox Tower.