With a transgender teen searching for her true self in the Swedish hinterland, Ester Martin Bergsmark’s Something Must Break lends a poetic look at the unbecoming state of becoming.
Show Me Loveby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Following on from Ester Martin Bergsmark’s poetic and semi-autobiographical documentary on third-gender Swedish emo-kids She Male Snails, Something Must Break is a wholehearted leap into fiction, following Ellie as she transitions from Sebastian and discovers a new identity and hitherto underexplored sexuality. There are elements from Bergsmark’s previous film Pojktanten that resonate – what with his woodland sexual encounters, fashionable youth and an intimate camerawork that caresses its protagonists. But away from the experimentalism, there’s a visual richness to Nånting måste gå sönder with its slow-motion moments of ecstasy and moody close-ups that set it apart. An enigmatic tale of a young man finding herself, Something Must Break is a tender portrait of sexuality and youthful self-discovery.
Sebastian (Saga Becker) is living as Ellie, sharing a flat with his lesbian friend Lea (Shima Niavarani) and working a dead-end job in a DIY store. He longs for something more than the casual encounters he indulges in in parks and public toilets, but it’s not until Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) enters his life, rescuing Sebastian from a homophobic beating, that a door opens. It’s a brave new world of possibilities – a free space of friendship, sex and freedom in which Sebastian can enjoy something approaching a lasting relationship, and become Ellie at last. But as Andreas starts to worry it might all be getting a little too gay for him, Ellie ups and leaves – unable to content herself with a romance of half-measures and borrowed prejudice.
Like the rose that opens in the first sequence, Ellie’s identity is an unfurling that occupies the narrative arc of Something Must Break, charting her progression from self-loathing transsexual to proud woman. And while Bergsmark’s film takes pains (almost clumsily) to point out the thorns that kick off Ellie’s story, it’s a lean but sensitive journey from dreamer who never says no to assertive lover refusing the unassured love of a confused man. And it’s a narrative marked by metaphoric shots of demolition and rebuilding, as Ellie destroys Sebastian and her former self, veering dangerously close to suicide, so that she can blossom into her true nature. Like the relics Ellie keeps in a keepsake box beneath her bed, including the tissue Andreas wipes his bleeding nose with, a visual awareness of her inner turmoil is recreated through symbols, like the spider crawling over human skin.
It’s a visual exuberance that both fails and succeeds – at its best in the choral-scored disco scenes or the slow-motion sequences of rough ecstasy – like the tableau of feminine pink in the middle of a mass of brown male bodies, all set to Peggy Lee’s You’re My Thrill. Brief moments of delight in a humdrum existence of self-doubt. But the imagery is also obvious and clichéd, as the two lovers go skinny-dipping beside a sewage outlet or spin around in a car park – a careless romanticism lacking in either originality or optimism. Like the finale that sees Ellie facing her new dawn on a rubbish heap, Bergsmark’s intentions are worn too obviously on his sleeve, giving into an admittedly more discreet but still centuries-old desire to drag his heroine through the mire.
But just as the cinematography in Something Must Break veers between the sublime and the scatalogical, so too does Bergsmark’s sparky script; occasionally shocking as Sebastian intones his inner monologue, “You can piss in my mouth if it’ll make you love me.” It’s crass but not always daring, with self-conscious lines such as “You’re so beautiful I want to vomit” aiming for an irreverence that robs them of their power. Nevertheless, a naive but poetic expression of transition – somewhere between male and female, innocence and experience, love and self-hate – Ester Martin Bergsmark’s Something Must Break is both a film of honest intimacy and a blazing testament of youth.
Something Must Break is released on 3rd April 2015 in the UK