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Something Must Break – BFI Flare 2015
March 26, 2015
Scandinavian cinema continues to deliver new interesting voices that manage to impress for both substance and style. Swedish filmmaker Ester Martin Bergsmark joins the club with narrative feature debut Something Must Break (Nånting måste gå sönder) after a couple of cult documentaries, Maggie In Wonderland (2008) and the very personal She Male Snails (2012). And it’s inevitable that the experience gained in that format carries over to Bergsmark’s first narrative foray, as especially the use of the camera suggests from the very first frame.
At the center of the story is Sebastian (Saga Becker), a transgender youth who doesn’t identify in gender restrictions although is set on a path to become Ellie. Yet, this isn’t another film about transition. It’s a beautiful albeit sad quest for love that speaks universally about mankind’s alienation in our current times and how many of us are afraid to connect with each other, often letting love slip away. This may be indeed another story about two lost souls in need of healing but the way it’s told carries a unique, hypnotizing atmosphere and despite much bleakness, it’s eventually uplifting.
Sebastian conducts a solitary life, having no friends except for an equally or so depressed lesbian roommate who at least seems to be sweet and caring. Yet, in order to overcome the monotony of a dull job at a warehouse and an overwhelming loneliness, Sebastian tends to often go wild around town, drinking or doing drugs, stealing clothes and getting involved in extreme sexcapades with strangers in the woods or orgies in S&M clubs. The isolation and emptiness are often too much to bear and as admitted directly in sparse stream-of-consciousness voice over, this is the only way Sebastian manages to disappear and take a break from the pain.
During one of these romps, whilst staring at a man by a urinal, Sebastian doesn’t get the response wished for and gets assaulted but a beautiful stranger comes to the rescue from out of nowhere. His name is Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) and from then on, the rest is history between these two. Andreas is equally messed up, silent and solitary, spending most of his time getting wasted. It seems like he doesn’t even have a job or at least we never see him work but we definitely witness his quick bonding with Sebastian as the two perfectly join forces in many urban shenanigans.
It’s clear from the start that sparks fly between the two and they wind up in bed despite some intimacy awkwardness at first. Andreas though claims he’s not gay and begins to detach himself, or at least he tries. Sebastian, inevitably hurt, feels more and more the need to become Ellie, at least on the outside but that isn’t enough for Andreas apparently. Yet he comes back and tries to reconnect, only to disappoint Sebastian again and again. He confesses his love yet he’s unable to find the courage to own up to it and get past the anatomic “obstacle” at play. Sebastian can’t help but try to “disappear” into further shallow sex ventures whilst trying to figure out if it’s possible to let Andreas go and allow happiness to finally come through by choosing to be whoever he/she wants to be.
The story is told visually with such grace and raw beauty that its alleged ‘downer’ side comes across more like a swoon-inducing melancholia which pervades the mood from start to finish. The camera follows Sebastian/Ellie mostly handheld and it truly almost feels like secretly spying on these two doomed lovers. In a film that doesn’t rely on action and explosion, the biggest special effect is the actors’ brilliant performances and the wonderfully poignant way they portray a story that everyone can identify with no matter what gender or sexual orientation they are.
Saga Becker is at his/her debut role and was found via an ad and what a find! Sebastian/Ellie’s vulnerability, sweetness, ache for love and inner torment is captured beautifully in every slight move and facial expression pulled off by the gorgeous Becker. Same goes for Iggy Malmborg who is a performance artist and whose overwhelming beauty, a mix between Ewan McGregor and River Phoenix, is perfectly matched by his immense skill at conveying Andreas’ inability to overcome his mental obstacles. These two actors together show off incredible chemistry and here’s to hope we see more of them on the silver screen soon. Meanwhile we’re surely excited for (filmmaker) Bergsmark’s next project, whatever that might be.
Something Must Break is released in UK cinemas on April 3rd
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor