The Broken Circle Breakdown

ROMANTIC DRAMA; 1hr 51min (Dutch with subtitles)

STARRING: Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse

Circle of life: Baetens and Heldenbergh

Love rewound from the precipice of illness is the launchpad for Flemish director Felix Van Groeningen’s lacerating dissection. Elise and Didier (Baetens and co-writer Heldenbergh) are classic free spirits — she’s a gloriously inked tattoo artist, he plays banjo in the bluegrass band in which she prettily sings, and runs chooks on a rough-hewn, patch-of-paradise farm. As a newly-hatched couple, they revel in each other. But when their adored seven-year-old daughter, Maybelle (Cattrysse), is stricken with cancer, they struggle, barely meshing, to cope.


Nipping backwards and forwards through the adaptation of Heldenbergh’s stage play, Van Groeningen patchworks the pair’s gnarly relationship: at first just the two of them, passionately connected, then the three, with cancer running the gut-slamming show. This is a warm sprawl of a movie, its snapshots strung like lanterns to illuminate the lighter and darker faces of love. The earthy Heldenbergh and Baetens are unhesitatingly present in sickness and in health: the care they take with Didier and Elise reflects the way you can’t fail to care for them, too, as they feel their way through unutterably tough, unchartered territory.