All of us, at one point or another, are destined to feel the impetus of life calling. It’s that driving, crashing unstoppable force of nature whose gravity we cannot escape. This dynamism is at the heart of Swedish filmmaker Ester Martin Bergsmark’s new film, Something Must Break.
The film focuses on the struggles of the gorgeously androgynous Sebastian, skillfully acted by newcomer Saga Becker, as ze attempts to sort out the semblances of not only hir own identity, but also the love and disaffections from the men in his world. Sebastian’s gender fluctuates between the binary of boy and girl, and in his world this is a desperately lonesome place. “Spit at me, hit me. Piss in my mouth if it’ll make you love me,” proclaims the protagonist.
Sebastian’s longings for affection come to fruition when archetypal punk boy, Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) rescues him after Sebastian comes on to the wrong man in a public restroom. The two make for a charmingly queer Sid-and-Nancy-esque couple, shoplifting and hustling would-be johns out of alcohol and kitchen appliances. As Sebastian’s best friend recaps their second meeting, “How charming. He pisses, looks you in the eye, and then throws up. It makes the romantic in me all worked up and hot!” The film’s subtly gritty aesthetic plays well to their aberrant love affair.
Just as Sebastian begins to feel secure in his and Andreas’ relationship, Andreas’ unceremoniously dumps him with the cliché excuse that he is “not gay.” Despite Sebastian’s assertion that ze isn’t gay either, it does him no good. At first rejected, ze stalks Andreas, but after disappointing public confrontation ze gives up hope and falls into a string of emotionally void and potentially dangerous encounters with random men.
As Sebastian struggles with the loss of Andreas, he attempts to reconcile his increasing need to be his true feminine self. “It’s as if I’m destroying myself to become her,” she states, clawing and scratching at her skin. Eventually, Andreas returns, and for a while all seems well with the two lovers. Sebastian even confides to Andreas that she must change her name to Ellie to better reflect her true personality. While he tries to be supportive of Sebastian’s feminine side, it is this flourishing of the powerful and brash Ellie that intimidates Andreas and ultimately leads to their undoing. After this final break-up, Ellie again subjects herself to humiliation in one of the film’s most powerful and haunting sequences. It seems in Bergmark’s vision, that debasement is divine.
Bergmark’s film reminds us that although we may try to suppress or supplant our identities for others, or even our own desires, we can never outrun or deny true self. Eventually, as the title states, something must break…be it hearts, how others see us, or maybe how we choose to see ourselves. Growth and transformation are often a messy, complicated business, and the blossoming flower sometimes has prickly thorns.
(Sweden, Swedish with English Subtitles, 81 mins. 2014)
Something Must Break makes its Milwaukee premiere Friday October 17, at 9 p.m. at the Union Theater as part of the 29th Annual Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival. Tickets are $9 for the general public, and $7 for students and seniors.