Q&A: Felix van Groeningen on The Broken Circle Breakdown

When Didier and Elise meet, they instinctually know they have both found their match. While his true love was once was reserved only for American bluegrass music, this fiery tattoo artist plucks away all semblance of the brutish bachelor he once was. They bond over music and culture, and dive headfirst into a sweeping romance that plays out on and off stage. When an unexpected tragedy hits, everything they know and love is tested. An intensely moving portrait of a relationship from beginning to end, Felix van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown has been hailed by audiences internationally as a must-see film.


Please describe your film in your own words.

Felix van Groeningen: The Broken Circle Breakdown is the story of Didier and Elise, a bearded bluegrass musician and a beautiful tattoo artist. I like to describe the movie as a rollercoaster of emotions.

As the co-screenwriter, what inspired you to tell the beautiful and sad story of Didier and Elise?

FvG: The movie is based on a theatre play, made by Johan Heldenbergh, who also plays the lead in the movie. I was simply blown away by the play, and it haunted me for a long time.

Your movie is full of wonderful American bluegrass music. Have you always been a fan? Is the genre popular in Belgium?

FvG: I became a fan while working on the movie, having to listen to bluegrass all the time. The genre wasn’t popular before the movie came out [in Belgium], but—as the movie was a big success—the genre is well known and liked right now.

Can you tell us a bit about your incredible cast? How did you work with them to evoke such a naturalistic style?


FvG: I didn’t think about a specific style, I guess… as a director I start rehearsing without really knowing what I want. During rehearsals we just try stuff, exclude what we don’t like, and discover what we do like.

With that knowledge, we start shooting. And every day, every shot, the question I have to answer to is: Did I feel something when they were playing this scene? If I did, then it’s good. If I didn’t, we try something else… until we get there!

What do you want audiences to take away from your movie? 

FvG: This is very corny, but: Seize the day, I guess… if you can.


The Broken Circle Breakdown is Belgium’s submission to the Academy Awards race for Best Foreign Language Film. What does that honor mean to you? 

FvG: A lot! And now it’s exciting to see if we can charm Academy Members as much as we did audiences and juries around the world. We’ll see.

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

FvG: Never stop. Always be yourself. Never stop. Just do it. And so on and on.

The Broken Circle Breakdown screens in World Cinema at HIFF 2013. Tickets | Facebook | Website

Felix-van-Groeningen-headshotFelix van Groeningen graduated in 2000 from KASK (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in Ghent with a Masters of Audiovisual Arts. He has also written and directed theatre plays with Ghent’s theatre group Kung Fu. All four of his feature films have been collaborations with producer Dirk Impens (Menuet). Van Groeningen’s 2009 film The Misfortunates received international attention after making its world premiere in Cannes (Directors’ Fortnight), including HIFF’s Golden Starfish Award for Best Narrative Feature. The Broken Circle Breakdown is a number one Flemish cinema hit and also successful abroad, collecting awards like Istanbul’s Golden Tulip.