A Belgian drama with bluegrass music may seem like an unlikely combo, but director Felix van Groeningen pulls it off spectacularly in his heart-wrenching new film “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” which is already garnering whispers of Academy Award recognition. While other foreign-language Oscar hopefuls such as “Wadjda” and “The Hunt” have come and gone from theaters (with others such as “Gloria” and “The Past” not making their way to Phoenix until early 2014), “Broken Circle” is arriving this month, opening at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale this Friday, Dec. 6.A stirring, emotional love story set against the backdrop of a burgeoning bluegrass scene, the film has drawn many comparisons to “Blue Valentine” and “Walk the Line,” and features standout performances from Belgian actors Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh. Ahead of the its release, the East Valley Tribune had the privilege of speaking with Groeningen about the film, the challenges of incorporating music, and how it feels to be a part of the Oscar conversation.Q: To begin with, when did you first come across the stage play on which this film is based, and what about it resonated with you or inspired you to adapt it for the screen?A: I went to see it because I knew Johan (Heldenbergh), who wrote, directed and starred in it (and stars in the film as Didier). We were actually rehearsing for one of my movies while he was making the play, and he would show up during rehearsals with his banjo – I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know why he was playing banjo, and then he explained to me that he was working on this play with bluegrass music.I didn’t go to the premiere or see the play for a very long time, but I heard very good things about it and finally went to see it. As I was watching it, I started crying after 10 minutes and didn’t stop until the end. I saw Johan afterwards and I immediately told him, “I think this is very interesting, maybe we should try to turn this into a movie.” We kept talking about it, but eventually I was like, “I don’t know man, I don’t know how I could pull this off, so no, I’m not going to do it.” But it kept on coming back to me, and I couldn’t let it go.At some point, when I was trying to figure out what my next movie was going to be, I was reading a bunch of stuff and developing my own things a little bit, and all of a sudden I was like, “Maybe I should reread the (play).” There and then, I said, “OK, this is very good. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’ll try.” What I had gone through while seeing this … it wasn’t something I had ever experienced, and it was so moving, and it’s a really sad story, but in the end, I felt relieved somehow, and that was something very strange.
Get warmed up for the season at “America’s Sweetest Race,” benefitting Ronald McDonald House Charities. The race is the culmination of a three-day Hot Chocolate Expo at the Pavilions at Talking Stick, where participants can pick up their race packet, bib, and goodie bag while enjoying music, hot chocolate samples, and a bounce house as a part of the Kids Zone. After the race, runners will be treated to a finisher’s mug full of hot chocolate and chocolate fondue with dippables.DETAILS >> Race starts at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 8; packet pick-up is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Pavilions at Talking Stick, 7043 E. Pavilions Blvd., Scottsdale. Race location: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale. $50 for the 5K, $75 for the 15K. hotchocolate15k.com/phoenix.