Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) have been together for seven passionate years but when their little girl Maybelle must face a serious illness, all the turning points in their intense and moving relationship seem to flash by. They remember their love at first sight, courtship and passion, coming closer through their bluegrass music band, braving marriage, unexpected pregnancy and eventually the joy of parenthood after the birth of beautiful Maybelle. A complete circle of happiness for this very unconventional couple... But as the stress and sorrow of Maybelle's treatment takes its toll, Didier and Elise begin to respond in different ways. They fight together for their child, as they hope love will not let them down when they need it most, but will love conquer fate?
Being an Atheist myself I found The Broken Circle Breakdown a curious film as it’s hard not to come out of it feeling some connection to the spiritual. Be it the feeling of belonging that such a belief brings or the strength of conviction that having faith brings. The power it holds over the films characters is intoxicating and by the end you find yourself believing in what you previously thought impossible, if only for a little while.
The film follows the relationship between two kindred spirits, atheist Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and religious Elise (Veerle Baetens). When they find out their daughter Maybelle has cancer they struggle to come to terms with how their perfect little life could be consumed by such sadness and strife. As they try to stay together and keep each other as they once were they find the true meaning of faith and love.
Told in a non linear way, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a torrent of heavy emotions and all consuming worry. That being said the film manages to marry scenes of complete joy with moments of absolute dispair as Didier and Elise comprehend the true fragility of life and their seemingly perfect family. Naturalistic in its dialogue and characterization, the film tries not to villainize either of them despite the choices that they make.
Baetens is a revelation as Elise, a optimist who has been stripped of her hope but the real highlight is Heldenbergh as he turns Didier into the ultimate romantic, an old soul who cannot see his life without his connection to his wife, to Elise. While the film proceeds to poke and prod at their relationship Didier begins to understand the hope that belief brings while Elise begins to lose it. The twisting of these characters is gut wrenching and tragic and never lets up for one second.
The film tells its tale of woe through bluegrass music as Didier and Elise, both of whole belong to the same band find comfort through their performances although the songs only keep them safe for a little while. Director Felix Van Groeningen’s twisty tale keeps you on your toes and introduces viewers to a different kind of belief, the belief in the faith of others. Didier cannot seem to comprehend the idea of god but through Elise and his painful journey he might just find some kind of religious peace.