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Film / The Broken Circle Breakdown

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The Broken Circle Breakdown is a 2012 film from Belgium (in Flemish) directed by Felix van Groeningen.

The film opens with Didier and Elise, a married couple, in a cancer ward, at the bedside of their desperately ill 6-year-old daughter Maybelle. It then vaults back six years to trace the course of Didier and Elise's relationship. Didier lives on a rather ramshackle farm in Ghent, but his main passion is American Bluegrass music. In fact, he has a bluegrass band, a very good one which tours around the famous bluegrass hotbed of, um, Belgium, singing American songs like "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Wayfaring Stranger".

Elise and Didier get married and she joins his band. They have a daughter that Didier names Maybelle after American country musician Maybelle Carter. But Maybelle gets sick...


  • Anachronic Order: The first part of the movie alternates scenes between Maybelle's illness and death, with scenes set earlier showing Elise and Didier's relationship and Maybelle's birth. Eventually the earlier timeline reaches the point where Maybelle gets sick. The second half of the film sticks with the Anachronic Order, with the main plot thread—the crumbling of Elise and Didier's relationship after Maybelle dies—being intercut with even earlier scenes in the timeline (Elise and Didier's first meeting) and later (Elise being whisked to the hospital after an intentional overdose of pills).
  • Call-Back: A scene where Elise and Didier meet for the first time has her demonstrating that she got tattoos of earlier boyfriends' names, only to mask them over with further tattooing when the relationships ended. Later, after she walks out on Didier, she shows him that she covered up his name. Then at the end, when she's lying brain-dead on a hospital bed, Didier discovers that she gave herself a tattoo of the new American bluegrass-style names she chose for the two of them ("Alabama" and "Monroe").
  • Death of a Child: Little Maybelle sickens and dies from cancer, wrecking Elise and Didier's marriage, and eventually causing Elise to kill herself.
  • Downer Ending: Maybelle dies. Elise commits suicide. The film ends with Didier and his band playing a bluegrass tune in the hospital, as a nurse pulls the plug on a brain-dead Elise.
  • Driven to Suicide: Unable to get past the death of her daughter and the dissolution of her marriage, Elise kills herself via an overdose of pills.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: It's raining outside as Elise rocks back and forth in her car, screaming with rage and grief after walking out on Didier.
  • Hope Spot: Elise wakes up in the hospital after her overdose, and actually gets up and out of her bed. It turns out it's her ghost/spirit, as in fact Elise is brain dead.
  • How We Got Here: The first scene shows Elise and Didier in the hospital looking after their desperately ill daughter, before a "7 years ago" card takes the film back to early in their relationship, before they were married.
  • Impairment Shot: Some blurry shots from the POV of a hospital gurney represent the view of a dying Elise after she has taken an overdose of pills.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: It's pouring rain, with a driving wind, as Maybelle is laid to rest.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: The first half of the film deals with little Maybelle developing cancer and dying a slow death at the age of seven.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: From a distance, but still. After the first time they have sex, Elise rather abruptly gets up and leaves, driving away in Didier's truck no less. Didier bounds out of bed but is too late to catch her, and is left stark naked on his front lawn watching her drive away. (She comes back with a new country music-appropriate decal on his truck.)
  • Match Cut: A scene cuts from the fiddler in Didier's band fiddling as they jam around a campfire in Didier's yard, to the fiddler fiddling on a concert stage, in a scene that reveals that Elise has joined the band.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When one of Didier's band mates asks a pregnant Elise "Do you know what it is yet?", Elise answers "A baby I reckon."
  • Tearjerker: A little girl sickens and dies from cancer, the parents' marriage collapses, and the mom kills herself, with the last scene being a nurse pulling the plug at the hospital. At least there's a lot of toe-tapping bluegrass music along the way.
  • Time Passes Montage: A montage done to Loretta Lynn song "I've Got Country in My Genes" shows Didier, Elise, and the band performing that song at multiple gigs, along with scenes of their family life with little Maybelle.
  • Titled After the Song: Sort of. The title is an allusion to the classic bluegrass song "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?".
  • Title Drop: As Elise is being loaded into an ambulance after taking an overdose of pills, Didier shouts "The circle is broken! You won't see Maybelle again!".