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The Broken Circle Breakdown 2012

The Broken Circle Breakdown | Alabama & Monroe

The Broken Circle Breakdown

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A Bluegrass Love Story.

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About The Broken Circle Breakdown 💬

THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN is Felix van Groeningen's fourth feature film. It has been a box office hit in Belgium and the Netherlands.

'THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN' tells the love story between Elise and Didier. She has her own tattoo shop, he plays the banjo in a band. It is love at first sight, in spite of major differences. He talks, she listens. He is a dedicated atheist, although at the same time a naïve romantic. She has a cross tattooed in her neck, even though she has both feet firmly on the ground.

Alabama: Why do you play the banjo?
Monroe: I'm too stupid to play the guitar and too dumb to play the mandolin. No, no. I used to be a punk rocker and a banjo sort of snarls, which reminds me of punk rock. I love it. How come you've got so many tattoos?

''Dirt-poor fortune-hunters from all over the world were there on the Appalachians, on that slate that was bloody difficult to mine. The Spaniard had a guitar, the Italian a mandolin, the Jew a violin and the African a Banjar, from which the banjo is descended. To combat the hunger and the misery, they started singing songs about their dreams of a promised land, often about their fear of dying, their hope for a better life in the hereafter and their sorrow, their hard life.''
Johan Heldenbergh as Monroe

''You should try explaining to a child how come the bird isn't moving anymore. It's difficult. You want to say people have come up with all kinds of ways of dealing with it. That some people believe the bird has a soul that doesn't die and goes up to heaven. That it'll see it's mummy and daddy again there and will fly around forever in a place where the sun always shines and there aren't any windows. That other people believe the bird is a martyr in the fight against windows. And after his death, he'll be given lots of female birds that have never mated and he can do what he wants with them. But Daddy doesn't believe in any of that. Daddy thinks that... that everything just dies and stays dead. But... But you can't say that.''
Johan Heldenbergh as Monroe

Ghent, June 2006

''I've been crazy about America all my life. No matter where you're from, when you get there you can start again. It's a country of dreamers.''
Johan Heldenbergh as Monroe

Elise Vandevelde (Veerle Baetens) and Didier Bontinck (Johan Heldenbergh) have been together for seven passionate years. Their happiness is complete after their little girl Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) is born. Unfortunately, Maybelle, at six years old, becomes seriously ill. Didier and Elise respond in very different ways. But Maybelle does not leave them any choice. Didier and Elise will have to fight for her together.

Will you get through something like that if you are so different? Or will love let you down if you need it most?

'THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN' is an intense melodrama, full of passion and music. About how love can conquer fate, and sometimes not.


THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN is an adaptation of a theatre play by Johan Heldenbergh. Johan is a friend and I've worked with him as an actor on two of my previous films. When I saw his play I was totally flabbergasted. The combination of the personal story, the music, and the theme (reason vs religion) just blew me away. Johan is very interested in film, so he was very excited when I expressed my interest in an adaptation. He was also in favor of not collaborating on the screenwriting. So I started working on the script together with screenwriter Carl Joos, but we had to start over a couple of times before we could really crack it, as it was a pretty complex story.


I had concerns about adapting the play to the screen. The play was so perfect that I wasn't sure the film was going to reach the same high standards. I debated if it was really worth making it. That particular romantic drama genre wasn't my cup of tea either. The play also had a lot of monologues, which isn't very cinematic material. It had so many layers. I had the feeling that I would never be able to translate them into a film. But in the end, it was my gut-feeling that convinced me. I was so deeply touched by this play that this would give me the energy to somehow find a way to make it work. I also felt that the fact that it wasn't going to be easy, would make it an interesting and personal film. All the not-so-evident particularities (bluegrass, melodrama) became the challenging features of the project.


The structure of THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN was created during editing. It was always the idea to cross-cut between different times of Didier and Elise's life, but the concept of the script was different than how it ended up being in the final film. This, however, has been the case with almost all of my films. Longtime collaborator editor Nico Leunen is a real magician with this kind of storytelling, and my films have benefitted a lot from it. The main reason, I guess, is that my films are not plotted storywise but emotion wise. And there are always a lot of things that work very different on screen (as opposed to on paper), so questioning all this during editing has become an uninevitable part of my filmmaking process.


Johan co-wrote the play and starred in it, and while adapting it, it never crossed my mind that he shouldn't play this role. The reason is simple: he and his character Didier are very much alike. They like to talk and don't mind being in the center of things. They have opinions on almost everything. Didier's atheist view on life is also very much Johan's. There is a difference between theatre and film however, and during rehearsals Johan and I researched other sides of Didier's character that he didn't need to explore on stage. This was a very interesting process, and we both learned a lot from it.


The character of Elise is an enigma. She's very strong and very fragile at the same time. She loves life, but on the other hand, has been so extremely hurt by it. As the film is more explicit than the theatre play in some ways, I had to alter some characteristics of Elise, but in a lot of ways, they stayed a mystery to me too, up until I met Veerle during an audition. At that moment, everything came together. She had to play Elise, and Veerle would give her the balls Elise needed. Veerle is a real pitbull, she bites and won't let go until it's over. She's a perfectionist, on every level.

  • LOVE

The film is about more than just parental love. It's about the love between two people who are extremely different and about loss: how you lose one another, whereas that's the very last thing in the world that you want. The film recounts how difficult it is for both our protagonists, Didier and Elise, to accept this concept when their little daughter becomes ill. Didier conceals his sorrow with great principles and theories, Elise escapes into symbolism, religion, and superstition. I understand that sorrow can be so overwhelming (the loss of a child!) that people feel the need to make up stories about a God, heaven and a life after death. I suspect that many people recognize this fence-straddling attitude. On the one side rationally convinced that there is no God or life after death, yet on the other, emotionally open to it because there is no other way.

We find the same duality in Elise and Didier. As long as things are going well, their opposite views on life are usually a source of amusement or at most, they lead to a heated discussion. However, when their daughter develops a life-threatening illness, these diametrically opposed views lead to a dramatic climax, because Elise and Didier are completely torn apart in their inner selves. In the end, this causes them to lose both themselves as well as each other.


Didier and Elise play in a bluegrass band and that is no accident. Bluegrass is integrated in a variety of ways into the story and forms the intrinsic link between all the main issues that appear in the film: live, death, birth, America, motherhood and fatherhood, finding consolation, life after death, ... Music is also what unites the couple. We have tried to let the songs find their spot in the scenario in a more organized manner and by doing so, give them the greatest possible dramatic impact. Sometimes a song is purely narrative and helps to tell the story or is even used as an ellipsis. In other places, we select a given song because it underpins the emotions.

While writing the screenplay, we put in songs from the original play. But, as I got to know more and more bluegrass songs, other songs found their way into the script. Bjorn Eriksson composed the bluegrass songs and also created the score. Meeting Bjorn was very important for the film, in lots of ways. You have to know that a lot of bluegrass musicians have something nerdy, but that is not how I saw Didier and Elise. Bjorn has been a bluegrass aficionado since he was 16. But he's also a very cool guy, and so meeting him, influenced not only the sound but also the look of the film. Bjorn conducted the recordings and guided Johan and Veerle's performances to the max (they sing everything themselves!). Bjorn himself plays dobro and guitar.


The tattoos were designed by Emy La Perla, a Brussels-based tattoo designer I interviewed for research I did during preparation. It was a marvelous encounter, I learned a lot about tattooing and I loved her drawing style, so I asked her if she wanted to design them. The tattoos were mentioned in the play but became a leitmotiv in the film. I guess it was just too nice not to actually see them and use them fully in the story.

  • DIDIER...

Is totally independent and a born fixer: practical, technical and resourceful. Didier's hallmark is his charm, to say the least. Always passionate, never aggressive.

The source of his atheism was hearing that Santa Claus does not exist. This was a true revelation to him; everything fell into place for him. Many ambiguous abnormalities that he had pondered with incredulity were, apparently, just made up. It was that simple.

Didier has many passions, but the leading one is bluegrass, a pure form of American country music. He plays in a band with some friends. Didier falls hard for Elise. She becomes the love of his life. He was wary of having children because he didn't want to play God over someone's life, let alone the life of a helpless child. But in the end, love wins him over and he becomes a loving father.

Their daughter Maybelle's illness will make Didier increasingly unreasonable...

  • ELISE...

Crackles with lust for life. But sometimes she lets life take control. She is pure emotion. If she is happy, she is ecstatic. If she is sad, she is inconsolable. She is exceedingly sexy, and at the same time mature and intelligent.

From an early age, she has had to be independent, taking over her father's tattoo shop. Her body is a testimony to her love life. Every time she falls head over heels in love, she tattoos the name of the lucky man. When they break up, she replaces it with a cover-up tattoo.

When Elise gets pregnant, she remains the same fun-loving person, but she wants to do everything as good and naturally as possible for her child. Her world falls apart when six-year-old Maybelle falls sick…

The Broken Circle Breakdown Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Felix van Groeningen

Writing Credits

Felix van Groeningen and Carl Joos (Adaptation)

Charlotte Vandermeersch (Collaboration on Screenplay)

Johan Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels (Play)


Johan Heldenbergh

Veerle Baetens

Nell Cattrysse

Geert Van Rampelberg

Nils De Caster

Robbie Cleiren

Bert Huysentruyt

Jan Bijvoet

Music by

Bjorn Eriksson

Cinematography by

Ruben Impens

Categories: Oscars, Oscar Academy Award Winner, EFA, European Film Award Winner

Genres: Drama, Music, Romance

Countries: Belgium, Netherlands

The Broken Circle Breakdown Official Trailer

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