Something Must Break
Well-intentioned but overwrought transgender drama from Ester Martin Bergsmark
An unconventional love story set in Stockholm’s LGBT scene, transgender filmmaker Ester Martin Bergsmark’s first narrative feature joins recent movies like Let the Right One In, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Force Majeure and Roy Andersson's 'Living' trilogy in exploring aspects of the Swedish psyche far removed from the IKEA stereotype of utilitarian conformity.
Transgender actress (and fellow newcomer) Saga Becker takes the central role of Sebastian, a troubled young man struggling to cope with his metamorphosis into Ellie, the girl he knows he is meant to be. This crisis of identity is further complicated when he embarks on a tumultuous love affair with Andreas (Iggy Malmborg), a straight man who simultaneously indulges and fights his attraction to Sebastian / Ellie.
This is undeniably bold filmmaking, both in its subject and its explicit approach. Bergsmark, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eli Levén, has clearly mined his own experiences, and so the emotions at play never feel anything less than authentic. This is also thanks to the strong central performances: Becker brings an understated power to the conflicted Sebastian and Malmborg handles Andreas' sexual crisis with compelling plausibility.
Unfortunately their efforts are undermined by Bergsmark's heavy-handed direction and – from Sebastian's tortured, introspective narration to Andreas' declaration that his lover is 'so beautiful I want to vomit' – much of the dialogue is distractingly overwrought. This is also true of the visuals: endless metaphorical shots (thorny roses, crumbling walls) and stagey slow-mo sex scenes are obviously intended to mirror Sebastian’s inner turmoil and ultimate release, but instead smack of hollow symbolism and empty provocation.
Whether it's down to Bergsmark's immaturity as a filmmaker, or his determination to stay on message at the expense of organic storytelling, Something Must Break falls over itself at every turn and, eventually, collapses under its own emotional weight. And while it may speak to an experience that deserves increased understanding, it is likely to alienate the wider audience that these stories so desperately need.
Selected release from Fri 3 Apr.