The title of "The Broken Circle Breakdown" refers to the hymn "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," which is a staple both of religious services and bluegrass performances.

And like a great, sad bluegrass song, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" concerns a family overcome by sadness and despair when their 6-year-old daughter is stricken with cancer.

Felix Van Groeningen's impressionistic film follows Belgian bluegrass musicians Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) as they meet, marry, raise daughter Maybelle and struggle to confront her illness.

It's structured as a series of sense memories, jumping backward and forward in time through scenes that are both happy and sad, while expertly splitting perspectives to look at the ways each parent grasps the tragic circumstances.

Occasionally, the movie hits you over the head as it strains for poignancy. But the musical performances are phenomenal and it understands a fundamental truth: Life unfolds less as a series of linear experiences than as a blur of past, present and future.

"The Broken Circle Breakdown"
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen
Starring Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh
Not Rated
Playing at Sunshine Cinema

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