The yearning twang of bluegrass brings Belgian musicians Didier (Johan Hldenbergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens) together in The Broken Circle Breakdown and beguiles them through all the heartaches and tragedies that follow. A protracted, fragmented love story in the tragic vein of Blue Valentine, the film plays with time in order to explore the small moments that inevitably send ripples both frontward and backward in a person's life.
We see these characters' nostalgic past and their tormented present as 6-year-old daughter Maybelle is slowly dying of cancer. Director Felix Van Groeningen stretches out the hospital scenes so every moment feels like an eternity, forcing this strong relationship into a meat grinder of savage circumstance. The performances are rightfully intense, with Baetens exuding a range of contrasting emotions, from tender admiration to soul-crushing melancholy.
But there's always music lingering in the air. The film is especially keen to the way melodies can shape and complement certain life experiences. While Didier and Elise are on the stage together, looking into each other's eyes, we feel the admiration and possibility that this could be something great. One lovely shot finds the couple in shadow, backlit by red luminescence while singing, spellbound as if the crowd didn't exist.
Unfortunately, Van Groeningen opts for a third act that's riddled with melodramatic shifts that feel unnecessary. There's also a strange obsession with American culture and politics, specifically Didier's love for Western notions of freedom and blind hatred for George W. Bush's conservative policies toward stem-cell research that he believes contributed to his daughter's death. All this overt politicking feels tacked on, a plodding distraction from Didier and Elise's genuine and nuanced heartbreak. Why The Broken Circle Breakdown—which opens Friday, Nov. 22, at the Ken Cinema—chooses to overcomplicate their often-sobering love story is anyone's guess.
A Case of You: Justin Long plays a lovable writer with insecurity issues who creates a fabricated online profile to win the heart of Evan Rachel Wood's adorable barista. Screens through Nov. 28 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Broken Circle Breakdown: One Belgian couple is torn apart by loss and connected by their passion for performing bluegrass music. Screens through Nov. 28 at the Ken Cinema.
Delivery Man: Vince Vaughn's man-child finds out he has fathered 533 children after donating to a sperm bank for decades. Hollywood at its finest.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself once again fighting to survive the titular death match that has become a necessary evil in the dystopic future.
Shaun of the Dead: Edgar Wright's lively riff on the zombie film is both brutal and funny, and it launched the careers of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
The Slingers: The Kickball Movie: This locally filmed kids movie follows a young teenager with an affinity for kickball who assembles a team of underdogs to combat bullies through fair competition. Screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 22 and 23, at the UltraStar Chula Vista.
We're the Millers: A scuzzy drug dealer asks three of his fellow degenerates to pose as his family members in order to cross the border with a massive stash of narcotics from Mexico. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Where the legend of Indiana Jones began—one of the greatest adventure films ever made. Screens at midnight Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Ken Cinema.
Syrup: An ambitious grad student gets a hard lesson in business warfare when he attempts to launch an innovative advertising campaign for a new soft drink. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Ginger and Rosa: The complex relationship between two teenage girls (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) living in 1960s London is forever changed by the Cuban Missile Crisis. Screens at 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, at the Mission Valley Library.
The Way, Way Back: Angst-ridden teen Duncan (Liam James) finds refuge and hope at a vintage water park owned by a beach bum (Sam Rockwell) while vacationing with his mother (Toni Collete) and her passive-aggressive boyfriend (Steve Carell). Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Dr. Who: The Day of the Doctor: Check out an episode of the hit British show on the big screen. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, at various local theaters. Visit fathomevents.com for details.
The Attack: An Arab doctor unravels after he discovers his recently deceased wife might have been responsible for a suicide bombing. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: In this classic '80s comedy, John Candy drives Steve Martin insane on a cross-country trip from hell. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Blue is the Warmest Color: A high-school student discovering her burgeoning sexuality falls in love with a blue-haired art student in this French epic that won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
The Armstrong Lie: Filmmaker Alex Gibney traces the downfall of cyclist Lance Armstrong, who had his seven Tour de France titles stripped after it was revealed that he'd been using illegal substances to boost performance.
The Best Man Holiday: A collection of college friends reunite for the holidays after 15 years, revealing a host of grudges and romantic intentions that have been simmering under the surface for years.
Évacateur: The Morton Downy Jr. Movie: An honest and evocative look at the controversial talk-show host who held the entire nation's attention in his grasp long before the reality-television revolution. Ends Nov. 20 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
How I Live Now: While on vacation in the English countryside, a defiant city girl (Saoirse Ronan) begins to see the world anew. But her coming-of-age is suddenly interrupted when a new world war breaks out. Ends Nov. 21 the Ken Cinema.
Operación E: This Colombian thriller tells the story of a young boy caught up in the guerilla war between government forces and revolutionaries, providing an unusually human view of the conflict. Ends Nov. 21 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Dallas Buyers Club: In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico.
Mysteries of the Unseen World: This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Spinning Plates: Foodies will undoubtedly fall for this documentary about three very different restaurants and their unique owners. Ends Nov. 21 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Thor: The Dark World: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again brings the hammer down on Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to save the human race and sustain the fragile balance of his own kingdom.
12 Years a Slave: Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen's stirring period-piece drama.
About Time: In Richard Curtis' (Love Actually) charming modern fable co-starring Rachel McAdams, a young man discovers he can travel through time and seeks to use his power to find his soul mate.
Ender's Game: Orson Scott Card's classic sci-fi novel about a young pilot fending off an alien threat finally gets adapted for the big screen, surely angering fans everywhere. Harrison Ford co-stars as a growling general.
Free Birds: This animated film follows two combative turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) as they try to get the gobbler off the holiday menu by traveling back in time.
Last Vegas: A foursome of aging Oscar-winning actors (Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Robert De Niro) play seniors who head to Las Vegas for one final hurrah of debauchery and camaraderie.
All is Lost: A nameless Man (Robert Redford) battles extreme weather and technology failure to keep his small sailboat afloat in this thrilling tale of survival from director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call). Ends Nov. 21 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
The Counselor: Director Ridley Scott brings esteemed author Cormac McCarthy's first feature screenplay to life. The story centers on a corrupt lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets in deep with a drug kingpin (Brad Pitt).
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: After grossing out America in 3-D, Johnny Knoxville gives his grumpy, ill-mannered, senior-citizen sketch character a feature-film platform.
Carrie: A supped-up remake of the classic 1976 horror film that nobody asked for and probably no one will like. But, hey, that's Hollywood! Stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular shy girl turned telekinetic monster.
Escape Plan: Action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger play aging inmates trying to escape from a super-maximum security prison by combining their brainpower. Talk about a work of fiction.
Captain Phillips: Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.
Deep Sea: A glorious ocean exploration with Del Mar's own veteran underwater filmmakers and explorers, Howard and Michele Hall. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Gravity: Sandra Bullock plays a marooned astronaut struggling to survive an epic space disaster in Alfonso Cuarón's breathless adventure film.
Enough Said: The latest slice of modern melodrama from director Nicole Holofcener (Please Give) features a mosaic of confused couples. Stars James Gandolfini in his last screen role.
Rush: Ron Howard's biopic about the bitter rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who battled for track supremacy throughout the 1970s.
Insidious Chapter 2: More horrific and ghostly images from director James Wan, the devious auteur behind Saw, The Conjuring and, of course, Insidious.
Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: The venerable edgy 'toon-fest has returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location with a 20th-anniversary show that runs through Nov. 23.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.