“Something Must Break,” the latest from Swedish filmmaker Ester Martin Bergsmark, centers in on the androgynous Sebastian (Saga Becker), whose painful transition into female alter-ego Ellie collides with a romantic interest in Andreas (Iggy Malmborg), a down-and-out punk who can’t resist Sebastian’s advances but assures he is “not gay”. The result is a gritty but heartfelt portrayal of chaotic love in modern day Stockholm.
Since its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film has led a strong life on the festival circuit, from International Film Festival Rotterdam to most recently Toronto’s Inside Out (and it’s screening at LGBT film festivals all summer). So Stockholm’s Albin Arrling and /bent’s Oliver Skinner decided to go back and forth on their impressions of the queer romance.
Arrling: Well I was first able to see the film when it opened in Stockholm. Even before viewing it I had this idea that it was going to be somewhat of a Swedish Laurence Anyways.
Skinner: And it’s set in the city where you grew up, whereas Stockholm is quite foreign to me.
Arrling: For sure! The characters could’ve been friends of mine. Was the film still relatable for you though?
Skinner: It was in a lot of ways. It has this very youthful vibe and certainly speaks to our generation. Although outside of that I’m not sure how much of an effect it could have. It felt most relevant for the here-and-now 20-something urbanite lost souls who seem to find themselves by way of drinking and staying out until sunrise – which I know all too well. But on the other hand, it does rejoice in universal themes like being an outsider, searching for love and self-identity.
Arrling: I see where you’re coming from: for a grand audience it’s not too relevant. I thought it was refreshing to see a film with such a slim target group. We need less of what the major movies are today, trying to please everyone.
Skinner: Absolutely. But at some points I think the film fell a bit short in developing those themes.
Arrling: Can you give any examples?
Skinner: One thing that continuously occurred to me while I was watching it: the characters and their interactions just felt numb. The emotions were very subdued and that didn’t really work for me. Sebastian’s love for Andreas felt… artificial?
Arrling: How they ended up together felt very loose.
Skinner: Which maybe was the intention.
Arrling: I thought their numbness made everything more real in a sense.
Skinner: But it didn’t make me care enough to stay invested throughout the entirety of it.
Arrling: I think the fact that it’s set here made a pretty big difference when it came to that.
Skinner: Totally. I was actually surprised at how bleak it made the city seem! How do you think it portrayed Stockholm?
Arrling: Accurately! Sebastian’s suburb apartment was too real. And I’ve peed by that wall in the park where they met a million times.
Skinner: Oh my God, since in the film they initially meet when he’s peeing there…
Arrling: It’s actually such a bad spot to pee, there’s no coverage! But anyway, Stockholm is probably the most segregated city in the world. As soon as you leave the inner-city it’s not that glam.
Skinner: What did you think of Sebastian’s character and her transition into Ellie?
Arrling: The emphasis really wasn’t on the transition itself, but more on Andreas accepting it.
Skinner: Or his lack of acceptance.
Arrling: Exactly. But I liked that the transition was fairly down to earth.
Skinner: If it’s even worth comparing the two, in ways it felt like an anti-Laurence Anyways.
Arrling: This was more its Scandinavian noir twin. Also, I loved how the sex scenes were executed. They felt genuine in the way you’d expect from a Swedish movie going on export.
Skinner: The sex scenes were the most impressionistic, but almost made me the most uncomfortable?
Arrling: I think that’s because they were portraying real sex. There were no Instagram filters there.
Skinner: I was really intrigued by Sebastian/Ellie and felt his pain, but it was the love story that didn’t win me over.
Arrling: If you view the film solely from Sebastian’s perspective it’s more captivating. In a scenario where the love story becomes an event or a side track.
Skinner: And it was easy to become upset with Andreas for leading him on and then swerving around and saying things like “I’m not gay” or when he invites Sebastian to his friends’, “just go easy on the girly stuff.”
Arrling: He definitely becomes the villain. You also get so many snippets throughout the movie that make you understand how much of an abandoned and betrayed person Sebastian is. Young gay guys using sex with older men in order to raise self-esteem is such a big theme.
Skinner: That’s so true. When things weren’t going well Sebastian seemed to find someone to momentarily aid him in forgetting Andreas.
Arrling: Then of course that only made the hole deeper. There’s a lot of stigma on issues like that. Those parts made me feel for Sebastian.
Skinner: Me too. Now the film’s title is taken from a Joy Division song. What did you think of the use of music?
Arrling: It was probably what I was expecting, that might be why I’m having a tough time remembering.
Skinner: There was one song that really grabbed me. Tami Tamaki’s “I Never Loved This Hard This Fast Before”:
Arrling: The one big thing I thought afterward was that I wanted so much more of Sebastian’s roomie (Shima Niavarani)!
Skinner: She was a mess and I loved it. Seeing her chainsmoke, head in hands, seated at the table overflowing with empty bottles…
Arrling: She needs a movie of her own. And their living situation was very relatable — ketchup being one of the staples. I’ve been so tired of seeing films where people move away from home and land this amazing apartment where they only buy organic food.
Skinner: Especially for people who sometimes have no other choice but to live on the fringes.
Arrling: The housing situation for young people is an extremely burning issue here actually. All means to raise awareness to that is so welcomed by me.
Skinner: So all-in-all, what’s your verdict of Something Must Break?
Arrling: It’s a very true-to-reality film about contemporary Stockholm and the struggles sexual minorities still have. But the plot could have been refined further.
Skinner: Agreed. For all its weaker moments, it was still a fascinating character study with an assured style and tone that play to the film’s advantage.
Arrling: And from our different sides of the world, we’re both looking forward to whatever Bergsmark will get up to next!