The Broken Circle Breakdown follows the relationship of Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (John Heldenbergh) over the course of seven years. The narrative jumps around in time while centering on the role that the couple’s daughter (Nell Cattryss) plays in their lives. The film is directed and written by Felix Van Groeningen (whose only other film that Americans would have any chance of knowing is his Cannes entry, The Misfortunates).
The Broken Circle Breakdown is definitely a case of a film trying to do too much. It’s quite clear that Felix Van Groeningen has a lot to say about humanity, but all of it requires so many different story elements that they almost sink the film. There’s an interesting relationship story that is very reminiscent of (500) Days of Summer. While the relationship does seem reminiscent of that film, it’s still effective in this film. Groeningen also tries to do a study of humanity’s relationship with death. Once again, this element is effective on its own in heartbreaking fashion. However, when the two elements (as well as a few others) are combined together they just don’t gel well enough.
That being said the performances of the two leads are able to overcome many of the film’s problems. John Heldenbergh is great as the stubborn but fun-loving Didier. He’s the more difficult character to get behind, but Heldenbergh plays him with such fascinating detail. The true star of the show, though, is Veerle Baetens. Baetens instantly captivates you and doesn’t let go until the very brutal end. Baetens is so charming that it is just too easy to fall for the typical heartbreak of a film like this. Yet what makes Baetens’ performance most impressive is that she sells that heartbreak so effectively. Nell Cattrysse also delivers a performance that is beyond her years. Beyond that, though, the supporting cast barely registers.
The Broken Circle Breakdown is one of the more ambitious romantic dramas you will ever see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fully deliver on its promise even if its two mesmerizing lead performers do.