Zak and Mia, Elise and Didier

For any family having a loved member afflicted by cancer is nightmare enough – having a young person battling their own body for survival, for those that love him/her; well that is beyond intolerable. It is one of the cruellest cuts life can impose. John Green’s ‘Fault in Our Stars’ is the fictional exposition of such heartbreak, winning hands down at the moment in top ten lists everywhere. In print form it has touched hearts all over the globe, with it now hitting the big screen as well. Critical reviews of the latter have been mixed, but I defy anyone to read the book and not be affected. But coming close to the above has been a tome and a movie I’ve cast my eyes on in recent weeks. So in order of perusal, let’s have a bo-peep at each offering.

Take a bit of ‘Once’, a smidgeon of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’, a dash of ‘I Walk the Line’, as well as a splash of ‘Blue Valentine’ and you sort of get the idea of the acclaimed Belgian indie I had the pleasure of watching from director Felix van Groeningen. Coming together over blue grass music is an unlikely pair. She’s into tattoos in a big way – he’s a beefy, hairy bear of a man; a musician in a band that’s pure Appalachian of the Flemish (Walloon?) variety. Their union produces a daughter, Maybelle; they raising her in pure alternative bucolic splendour. But it eventuates that all is not well with their cherished offspring just as she reaches school age. It is heartbreaking – can the relationship survive the impositions this revelation imposes on their tightness as a unit? They try to use the music to take away their pain. When the band launched into Townes van Zandt’s ‘If I Needed You’, well that just finished me off big time. I was reaching for my hankie to dry away the tears.

breakdown.

It is structurally a very clever movie. To view it requires having one’s wits about to keep track of the time shifts. Also the band’s climb to fame is very subtly done so as not to overshadow the devastating events of its main narrative. It was nominated for a best foreign movie Oscar at the most recent awards, understandably missing out to that Italian gem, an over-the-top classic, ‘The Great Beauty’. The more minimalist ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ is, though, a treat of a film even if, at its core, it is just so, so sad. For me it is one of the year’s best – there have been so many of those in 2014 and we are only half way through.

.broken_circle_breakdown_3

Although I initially viewed AJ Betts’ YA novel, ‘Zak and Mia’, as an inferior Aussie attempt to cash in on Green’s best seller, on reading it soon came out of the shadow of the American’s book. The latter grabbed me from the get go, although my enthusiasm had waned a tad by the end. With ‘Zac and Mia’ the reverse occurred. It perhaps won’t reach the stratospheric sales of its predecessor, but it certainly is no derivative clone. It is a magic book. By the time Mia reaches Zac’s family farm I was hooked and didn’t put it down till I finished it. The two characters – one a feisty party girl, estranged from her mother; the other a country lad with a mum doting on him. Both have cancer and meet whilst undergoing treatment. The last hundred pages I completed as the sun came up over Bridport, again wiping away my tears, this time with my bedsheets. Like the movie – just so, so sad.

zac and mia

The disease and Lady Gaga bring these two together, but they are strange bedfellows, if you’ll excuse the pun. She goes on the run, thinking if she gets as far away from WA as possible her problems will resolve themselves. He is more pragmatic, concerned about his longevity, trawling the net to discover his odds at any given point. They fall into ‘love’ almost without realising it, but their cancers also drive them apart. Can there be the happy ever-afters for our brave protagonists as Betts skilfully builds towards a conclusion?

The author did her time in a hospital ward treating sufferers of the big C, so she knows what she’s on about. As the novel rolls on we get the impact of the events on the two very divergent mothers involved, as well as meeting Zac’s inspiring aunt, with her own story of survival. It is all rounded off beautifully by the author in a way that reaches deep into the reader’s humanity.

aj betts

AJ Betts

Thank you darling daughter for recommending such a gem, one she considered was odds on for a CBC award, had the publisher remembered to list it. Thank you also to all those savvy film critics who enticed me to the State Cinema for that superior Belgian weepie.

Trailer for ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a50DJkCxqw

AJ Betts’ website = http://www.ajbetts.com/

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