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"Your mother ate my dog! - the girlfriend, Paquita. Not ALL of it... the boyfriend, Lionel, pulling the tail out of mum's mouth"  -from Peter Jackson's film, Braindead
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 

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Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), two unconventional star-crossed lovers, fall for each other despite their differences. He talks, she listens. He's a romantic atheist, she's a free-spirited realist. The couple make a life together in a gorgeous country farmhouse, begin a bluegrass band and raise a beautiful daughter, Maybelle (Nell Catrysse). But when an unexpected tragedy strikes, their love and everything they know is tested.

Review by Louise Keller:
The juxtaposition of bluegrass music in this heavy-hitting drama about love and loss brings with it an unexpected and exquisite timbre. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Johan Heldenbergh has adapted his stage play by reworking his original concept and using music to frame the story. Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, the film is powerful in that it addresses the tough issues of illness, death and conflict with great veracity as the love story between its two protagonists unfolds at different times in their relationship. Like the free-spirited lovers, the film elicits a sense of freedom and the way it builds to its climactic finish is both devastating and beautiful.

The film begins and ends with music. Life affirming, toe tapping, gut wrenching bluegrass music, when the strings of banjo, guitar, bass and fiddle blend joyously in a musical expression that transcends the moment. The present and the past are woven together like pieces in a jigsaw depicting the lives of Didier and Elise, a couple who meet, fall in love and have a child together.

Heldenbergh plays Didier, the band's banjo player, a pragmatic realist who falls in love with Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist who lives by her faith and spirituality. Both performances are intense and outstanding. Theirs is a passionate relationship, ignited by physicality and sealed by their mutual zest for living. We warm to them and to their relationship. In one of the early sex scenes Didier he asks why Elise is covered by tattoos. The answer is not given verbally but becomes apparent as the narrative plays out: Elise depicts her life and the people in it by imagery on her body. The names of previous lovers are replaced by a new tattoo as required.

The changes in the relationship between Elise and Didier become apparent as Elise falls pregnant, the baby is born and there are challenges during the little girl Maybelle's (Nell Cattrysse) cancer treatment. There are many scenes that are difficult to watch as Elise and Didier are confronted by the emotional hell that follows. Adversity, pain and loss bring grief, conflict, blame and vitriol. None of these emotions are delivered gently - these are confronting, angst-ridden moments filled with raw pain.

The fact that the story is not told chronologically adds to the dramatic arc - the action leapfrogs backwards and forwards allowing us to learn more about the bond between Elise and Didier over the years of their meeting, courtship, marriage and the challenges they face. There is no dialogue between the tall bearded musicians; theirs is a presence that comes and goes like a bookmark at key chapters. Like Didier, the musicians are an unruly bunch with long hair, beards and an unbridled passion for life.

The final performance, when exuberance and pain is expressed by the music, will haunt you in a way we do not expect. Take a tissue - this is an affecting film that touches the heart.

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(Belg/Neth, 2013)

CAST: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Geert Van Rempleberg, Nils De Caster, Robby Cleiren, Bert Huysentruyt, Jan Bijovet

PRODUCER: Dirk Impens

DIRECTOR: Felix Van Groeningen

SCRIPT: Felix Van Groeningen, Carl Joos (play by Johan Heldenbergh, Mieke Dobbels)


EDITOR: Nico Leunen

MUSIC: Bjorn Eriksson

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes



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