The Broken Circle Breakdown

Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen

Starring:  Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg

President Barack Obama once said that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside of your body.  That comment always struck me.  When you have a son or a daughter, you become vulnerable and exposed because of your overwhelming love for that child.  As a parent, your worst fear is that some type of harm will come to your child.  In The Broken Circle Breakdown, Feliz Van Groeningen tells a beautiful love story and the heartbreaking tale of a parent’s worst nightmare.

Didier Bontinck (Johan Heldenbergh) owns a simple farm in Belgium.  When he is not busy working on his farm, he plays bluegrass music with his band.  Didier’s world is turned upside down, however, when he meets tattoo artist Elise/Alabama (Veerle Baetens).  Elise is full of life and passion and she sweeps Didier off of his feet.  They fall head over heels in love with one another and they have a steamy and loving romance.

Elise unexpectedly becomes pregnant, and they have a beautiful little girl, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse).  Didier, Elise and Maybelle are living their dream.  Elise and Didier sing with a bluegrass band and Maybelle is a typical 6 year-old in Belgium, energetic, curious and obsessed with Mega Mindy.  Tragedy strikes, however, when Maybelle is diagnosed with cancer.  Elise and Didier must rally together to help their daughter battle a terminal illness.  As little Maybelle struggles, Elise and Didier’s relationship faces one trial after another.  As a couple and as individuals, they must face a parent’s worst nightmare.

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a heartbreaking love story.  It is strikingly similar to the 2011 French film Declaration of War, which also tackled the subject of a couple’s struggle against a child’s cancer diagnosis.  However, The Broken Circle Breakdown is more poignant.  As an initial matter, Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh deliver outstanding performances.  Baetens goes from a carefree vixen to the lead singer of a bluegrass band to a doting mom and an emotional wreck.  It is not a surprise that this role has garnered Baetens numerous awards as she truly loses herself in the role of Elise.  Likewise, Johan Heldenbergh also gives a compelling performance.  Initially, he comes across as a random hillbilly in Belgium.  But despite the beard and the scruffy hair, Heldenbergh evolves into a striking leading man.  There is a genuine passion and an all consuming love in his eyes when he looks at his wife.  Every woman wants to be looked at with that kind of adoration.  The performances by these two actors and the chemistry between the pair drive this tragic tale.

Additionally, The Broken Circle Breakdown unfolds in a nonlinear fashion.  As Elise, Didier and Maybelle battle cancer in the present day, there are flashbacks to earlier times.  The juxtaposition of the couple’s present day struggles with images of happier times makes their story even sadder.  And just when viewers start to think that the film is a fairly straight-forward tale of love and loss, political, religious and philosophical debates are thrown into the mix.

With that being said, The Broken Circle Breakdown is not without its flaws.  While the nonlinear narrative tool works initially, at some point, it goes too far.  The director jumps around too much, and at times it is difficult to ascertain when certain events are happening in the story.  The swift cuts to different scenes are often abrupt and it is difficult to determine whether a scene is a continuation of a prior scene or a jump back or ahead in time.  This takes away from the tale, as there are key scenes between the two lead characters where I spent too much time trying to figure out when the conversation was happening.  Ironically, the nonlinear narrative style aids in maximizing the emotional drama, but it takes away from the continuity of the film as some scenes feel thrown together without any seeming reason.

Overall, The Broken Circle Breakdown earns a strong 0.06% rating.  You will need a strong red wine to make it through the ending of this sad tale.