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last update 17.Oct.13
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The Broken Circle Breakdown
dir Felix Van Groeningen
prd Dirk Impens
scr Carl Joos, Felix Van Groeningen
with Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg, Nils De Caster, Robbie Cleiren, Bert Huysentruyt, Jan Bijvoet, Blanka Heirman
baetens and heldenbergh
release Bel 10.Oct.12,
US Apr.13 tff, UK 18.Oct.13
12/Belgium 1h51

The Broken Circle Breakdown Even though this involving film is rather dark and bleak, there's a blast of hopefulness surging through it, including some exhilarating high points as it takes a circular approach to a story about a couple meeting, falling in love and facing some difficult real-life events.

Didier (Heldenbergh) is a musician in a bluegrass band, living on a run-down farm in the Flemish countryside when he meets Elise (Baetens), a tattoo artist who has documented her life on her body. There's an immediate spark between them, and as Elise becomes a singer in the band, she discovers that she's pregnant. Their daughter Maybelle (Carttryse) completes their joy together, but at 6 years old she's stricken with leukaemia. And going through her illness strains Didier and Elise to the breaking point.

After opening with the band singing Will the Circle Be Unbroken, hinting at the meaning behind the movie's title, the filmmakers spiral through the narrative out of chronological order, shifting to the past and present as we see key moments in the relationship. But it never feels remotely fragmented: there's a fluidity to the directing and editing that carries us through each event, hinting at what's happened in the past and what's coming later long before the details are filled in.

The narrative kind of bunches the happy and sad moments together, which gives the film's emotional narrative a terrifying rollercoaster trajectory. At one point Elise says, "Everything just seems too wonderful to be true," and we know we're about to plunge off another precipice. Even their deliriously joyful wedding is tinged with ominous doom when they promise to stay together "till death do us part".

Heldenbergh and Baetens light up the screen, letting us see into their souls both in the exuberant highs and the horrific lows. And the music is simply gorgeous, overflowing with all kinds of energy, from the giddy charm of The Lion Sleeps Tonight to the aching pain of Wayfaring Stranger. So the final scenes, which explode with misplaced anger, frustration and pain are very difficult to watch. And while it's sometimes overwhelmingly heartbreaking, the film offers a more resonant depiction of the realities of life and death than we usually see on-screen.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir Sebastian Lelio
scr Sebastian Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
prd Luis Collar, Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain
with Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora, Coca Guazzini, Hugo Moraga, Alejandro Goic, Liliana Garcia, Antonia Santa Maraa, Luz Jimenez, Marcial Tagle
garcia at laughter therapy
release Chl 9.May.13,
UK 1.Nov.13 • 13/Chile 1h50


See also:
Gloria Bell (2019)

Gloria This Chilean comedy-drama may have a rather meandering narrative, but it's packed with memorable scenes that bring its characters vividly to life. It's also a rare film that centres on a 50-something woman trying to make the most of life on her own terms.

Divorcee Gloria (Garcia) has a relatively full life with her office job, yoga, laughter therapy and helping her two adult children (Fontecilla and Zamora) with their issues. Refusing to settle into a dull life at home, she hangs out at the local disco, where she meets Rodolfo (Hernandez), a man her age who runs a paintball/bungee park. They hit it off, but Gloria is concerned that he isn't interested in her family, as he's constantly dropping everything to help his adult daughters. Can she cope with this? Or is she just fine on her own.

There isn't much of a plot here: the film is a series of sequences offering insight into Gloria's resilient personality. From the start we can see that, despite her romantic baggage, she's hopeful about romance and has a youthful, silly streak. Her life is fairly inconsequential, but the way she deals with even the smallest incident makes us smile. When a creepy hairless cat appears in her flat, she makes her maid take it away. When her upstairs neighbour loses a stash of pot, she denies all knowledge of it.

Filmmaker Lelio keeps the tone offhanded and light, even though the script touches on big issues almost anyone can identify with. Many scenes are hilariously awkward in a naturalistic way that reveals Gloria's personality. We see her quiet yearning for companionship, which is beautifully echoed when she meets up with her ex-husband (Goic) and is then forced to put on a brave face to cover her true feelings.

Garcia plays these scenes effortlessly, finding comedy and darker emotion in every scene. She shows us a woman who will stand up for herself when things get tough, but also knows how to have fun in the process. She only briefly hesitates the first time she sees Rodolfo's velcro corset: it won't get in the way. And the fact that she looks like a drag queen with her thick mop of brown hair and over-sized specs only makes her even more loveable.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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The Past
4/5   Le Passé
dir Asghar Farhadi
prd Alexandre Mallet-Guy
scr Asghar Farhadi, Massoumeh Lahidji
with Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin, Sabrina Ouazani, Babak Karimi, Valeria Cavalli, Aleksandra Klebanska, Jean-Michel Simonet, Pierre Guerder
rahim and bejo
release Fr 17.May.13,
UK Oct.13 lff, US 20.Dec.13
13/France 2h10


london film festival
The Past Farhadi brings his surgically precise filmmaking to Paris with an interpersonal drama that, like A Separation, fills the screen with almost frighteningly complex characters who are struggling to get on with their lives together. Or apart, for that matter. Farhadi isn't one to let old wounds heal slowly; he'd rather rip off the plaster and pick away the scab.

After four years back home in Tehran, Ahmad (Mosaffa) arrives in Paris at the request of his estranged wife Marie-Anne (Bejo) to finally sign the divorce papers. She wants to marry Samir (Rahim), whose child she's carrying. But she also needs Ahmad's help because he has always had a better relationship with her daughter Lucie (Burlet), now 17 and not coping with Samir at all. But as Ahmad tries to help, he gets sucked into a nasty series of secrets and misunderstandings surrounding Samir's comatose wife.

All of these characters have such vivid internal lives that we can understand the way they react, or more likely overreact, to each emotional situation and reality-shifting revelation. In addition to these four, there is also Samir's feisty 5-year-old son (the startlingly expressive Aguis), Marie-Anne's more passive younger daughter Lea (Jestin) and Samir's observant employee Naima (Ouazani), all of whom add important pieces to the puzzle.

But this is perhaps the film's one problem: it's so intricately plotted that it sometimes feels melodramatic or preachy, with dialog that's overtly on-the-nose. More interesting are unfinished conversations and emotional outbursts that clarify some issues while muddying things further. But all of the actors let us see that what these people say doesn't always reflect how they feel. And that they often aren't even sure how they feel.

With the film's trickiest role, Rahim is the stand-out. He's required to be menacing, vulnerable, tough and in deep pain in almost every scene. And he pulls it off because everyone finds just the right note of chemistry in each encounter. Meanwhile, Farhadi's astutely detailed direction refuses to show us what we want or expect, while the script carefully pushes each character to the brink. It's a harrowing journey that leaves us shaken. And perhaps hopefully we've learned the value of the truth in any relationship, even when it's going to be painful.

12 themes, language
15.Oct.15 lff
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We Are the Best!
4/5   Vi Är Bäst!
dir-scr Lukas Moodysson
prd Lars Jonsson
with Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne, Johan Liljemark, Mattias Wiberg, Jonathan Salomonsson, Alvin Strollo, Anna Rydgren, Peter Eriksson, Charlie Falk, Lena Carlsson, David Dencik
lemoyne, barkhammar and rydgren release Swe 11.Oct.13,
UK Oct.13 lff
13/Sweden 1h42


london film festival
We Are the Best! After dipping into more experimental filmmaking, Moodysson returns to the lively improvisational style of Show Me Love and Together. He coaxes energetic, utterly charming performances from his three pre-teen leads, while exploring youthful rebellion from a cleverly askance angle.

Like most 13-year-olds, Bobo (Barkhammar) is embarrassed by everything her mother (Rydgren) does. So she chops off her hair and goes punk with best pal Klara (Grosin), who's also fed up with her over-involved parents (Carlsson and Dencik). After Bobo and Klara impulsively start a band, learning the instruments as they go, they draft in devout Christian classmate Hedvig (LeMoyne), reasoning that they can influence her with their music. But Hedvig joins in fully, and as they come together as a band, they think about entering a local competition. But only on their counter-culture terms.

Set in 1982 Stockholm, these girls may late to the punk scene but they're a riot of attitude, shouting abuse at the system around them. Their first song is Hate the Sport, a rant about their tyrannical PE teacher. Like most pre-teen girls they have a crush on their favourite local punk group and contrive to meet the bandmates (Salomonsson and Strollo), two guys their same age. But this causes a problem because there aren't enough boys to go around. And the ensuing jealousy is about as much a plot as the film has.

Moodysson holds our interest by just letting these girls go. Their stream-of-consciousness dialog is hilarious, as are their ill-planned antics, such as chopping off Hedvig's luxuriant blonde locks. Everything reminds that they're just kids, but they feel smarter than all of the grown-ups put together. And we begin to take their point of view. Even the condescending has-been rockers (Lilkemark and Wiberg) who manage their rehearsal space get their comeuppance.

This sparky view of youthful exuberance isn't terribly original, but the film has such a scruffy, loose style that it can't help but make us fall in love with all three stars. The setting and period provide too many oddball quirks to make the film truly timeless, although Moodysson is terrific at catching everyday details that give us telling insight even into the most minor characters. And in the end, we want to sing Hate the Sport along with them.

15 themes, language
8.Oct.13 lff
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