out of Five
Running time: 107
Emotionally engaging from start to finish, this tenderly directed and heartbreaking drama about a grief-stricken couple trying to overcome loss is filled with heartfelt performances and the underlying Americana theme works beautifully.
What’s it all about?
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, The Broken Circle Breakdown is an adaptation of the 2009 play, The Broken Circle Breakdown featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama by Johan Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels. Starring Heldenbergh (who also adapted the play for screen) and Veerle Baetens, it explores the tumultuous seven year relationship between Didier and Elise, an unconventional but passionately-in-love couple struggling to come to terms with their young daughter Maybelle’s (Nell Cattrysse) battle with terminal cancer. As Maybelle’s strength continues to weaken, Elise and Didier find themselves coping in completely different ways, adding deeper strain to their relationship and leaving them to question whether their relationship can survive their intense and bitter heartbreak.
Nailing the deeply saddened look, Veerle Baetens is perfectly cast as the tattooed and emotionally vulnerable dreamer Elise, and her affecting performance deserves credit for how engaging The Broken Circle Breakdown can actually be at times. Johan Heldenbergh (whose beautifully sad script perfectly translates to screen) is also convincing as the frustrated realist Didier, and the adorable Nell Cattrysse (who was just five years old during filming) is so endearing, yet older than her years in her challenging role as Maybelle, that it makes the film’s premise all the more heartbreaking.
As the film crosscuts between different times during the couple’s relationship we soon learn that it’s Bluegrass music that initially unites them (the two characters also sing and play in a Bluegrass band together throughout their relationship) and in a similar way, the musical genre (featuring heavily on the soundtrack) also holds the film together when it occasionally runs the risk of becoming too sombre and downbeat. Throughout the film, this underlying theme of Americana is subtly explored again and again through both current events and Didier and Elise’s characters, giving them a unique depth and thus making them more realistic and easier to empathise with.
The Broken Circle Breakdown is a powerful, moving drama with a poignant script, fitting soundtrack and impressive performances at its heart. Recommended.