The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

A haunting musical journey which takes us on a path of love, grief and loss

6/29/20233 min read

Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens
Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens

Dutch, 111 minutes

Director : Felix van Groeningen

Cast : Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse

Awards : Nominated for Best Foreign language film, Academy Awards, 2012; Won Caesar Award for Best foreign film, 2012; Won ‘The Best Actress award’ and nominated for Best Film, Best director, best Actor, Best Screenplay and people’s choice Awards in European Film Awards, 2012

This film is an out and out tragedy and thorough tearjerker, so viewers- a word of caution- don’t see it if you do not like tragedies. Though the director lessens the impact of tragic outcomes in a series of flashbacks and flash forwards which intersperse the film as it moves forward, it does serve tragedy in full course.

This Belgian film takes viewers on an emotional roller coaster ride through the depths of love, passion, grief, and hope. This poignant drama beautifully weaves together themes of music, relationships, and tragedy, leaving a lasting impact on its audience.

The lead singer of a band Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) meets a tattoo artist, Elise (Veerle Baetens), who share passion for American music in general and country music in particular, and consequently fall head over heels in love with each other. Elise has good voice so she also joins as a singer with the all strings band and they start performing together. They get married and Elise one day disclosed to Didier that she is pregnant. Though he is not ready for it and is angry at the outset, they both come to terms with it and in due course a girl child is born, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse). Both are shown doting parents who shower love and take good care of the girl.

All is good till she is around seven years old when it is discovered that she is suffering with cancer. This shatters them. Though they want to hang on to each other the tragedy is just too much to bear. Here the film gets deep into interpersonal relations, their beliefs and conflicts. As the girl’s condition worsens, so does the relationship between Didier and Elise. Girl’s death takes them apart completely though there is a caring attitude towards each other.

After the death, both get into a fight one night and Elise leaves Didier and starts living at her Tattoo studio alone. This worries Didier and he visits her. They continue to perform together in the band but live separately.

Music plays an integral role in ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’, serving as a means of expression and communication for the characters. The heartfelt bluegrass melodies provide a haunting backdrop to the narrative, mirroring the film's emotional journey. Each song performed by the characters resonates with the themes of love, loss, and healing, adding an additional layer of depth to the storytelling.

Then another tragedy strikes which I am not going to reveal here and spoils viewer’s experience which takes us to the film’s end.

Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh deliver stellar portrayals as Elise and Didier respectively, displaying a remarkable on-screen chemistry. Their performances are raw and utterly convincing, making their characters genuinely relatable. Baetens, in particular, shines as Elise, displaying a remarkable range of emotions, capturing the pain and anguish of a mother facing the unimaginable tragedy. No wonder that she went on to win ‘best actress award’ at lot of film festivals around the world

About the director, Felix van Groeningen

Born in November, 1977 at Ghent, Belgium he graduated with ‘Master of Audio Visual arts’ in 2000 from Royal Academy of fine arts. After graduation, he made a few short films and directed stage plays.

Felix was born to free spirited parents who lived a hippie lifestyle and this perhaps forms the background of this film, The Broken circle Breakdown, where the two main characters lead a somewhat similar lifestyle.

He made his first film, ‘Steve + Sky’ in 2004 which were followed by ‘With Friends Like These’(2007) and ‘The Misfortunates’ (2009). Present film is his 4th film and by far the most celebrated film. His recent film is ‘Eight Mountains’(2022) which was also feted at a few film festivals including Cannes Film Festival, 2022.