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Something Must Break (Nanting maste ga sonder): Rotterdam Review

The Bottom Line

Journey into unconventional sexuality adheres all too closely to modish art-film norms.

Venue

Rotterdam Film Festival (Tiger Competition), 30 January 2014.

Director

Ester Martin Bergsmark

Ester Martin Bergsmark's Swedish romantic drama starring Saga Becker and Iggy Malmborg world-premieres at Gothenburg and contends in the Tiger competition at the Dutch festival.

Clearly intended as a shimmeringly intense investigation of 21st-century sensuality and sexuality, Stockholm-set Something Must Break (Nanting maste ga sonder) falls some way short of its full orgasmic potential. Essentially a moody soundtrack-album in search of a movie, this torrid tale of a pre-op transgender twentysomething and his ostensibly straight punk boyfriend opened the Gothenburg festival and may enjoy arthouse success when it comes out there on March 28. Prospects beyond Scandinavia are sketchier, though it's been one of the better-received titles in Rotterdam's Tiger competition and recognition from the jury would broaden its appeal beyond the burgeoning LGBTQ circuit.

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Ester Martin Bergsmark and his co-scriptwriter Eli Leven have adapted a novel by the latter into a screenplay that draws on the autobiographical experiences of both. The result is a claustrophobic character-study of warehouse worker Sebastian (Saga Becker), who lives with gal-pal Lea (Shima Niavarani) in a cozily cramped flat and spends his free time in a haze of drink, drugs, dancing and drifting into the persona of his feminine alter-ego, whom he names Ellie. Saved from a gay-bashing homophobe by leather-jacketed sensitive bad-boy Andreas (Iggy Malmborg), the pair tentatively drift into what becomes a steamily intimate relationship. But, as so often in gay-themed romances of the current era -- see Poland's Floating Skyscrapers from last year and even the Cannes-crowed Blue is the Warmest Color - - Andreas doesn't see himself as anything other than straight, and his difficulty in embracing his bisexuality is a major obstacle to the pair's happiness.

By this stage, however, insufficient chemistry has been established between the two leads for the audience to care very strongly one way or the other -- we're a long way from Andrew Haigh's Weekend (2011), for example. It doesn't help that background characters are either thinly developed or quietly abandoned -- Niavarani's boisterous Lea simply disappears -- resulting in a four-square focus on the travails of Sebastian/Ellie and Andreas.

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Bergsmark resorts to all manner of directorial flourishes in an attempt to give his picture liveliness and distinction, but in terms of sound and visuals she cleaves closely to current trends in semi-arthouse cinema, including brief interludes of explicit but highly stylized nudity. The boldly eclectic soundtrack -- ranging from glitchy, doomily distorted techno to Peggy Lee -- is almost always a pleasure (the film's title is taken from a Joy Division song), but overall there's little here that Lynne Ramsay didn't do better more than a decade ago in Morvern Callar. Four editors are credited, with predictably choppy, episodic consequences right up to sudden cut to black, which for some reason has become the global default way for a film to say sayonara. 

Venue: International Festival Rotterdam (Tiger Competition), 30 January 2014

Production company: Garagefilm International

Cast: Saga Becker, Iggy Malmborg, Shima Niavarani, Mattias Ahlen

Director: Ester Martin Bergsmark

Screenwriters: Ester Martin Bergsmark, Eli Leven, (based on Eli Levén’s novel You are the roots that sleep beneath my feet and hold the earth in place)

Producer: Anna-Maria Kantarius

Directors of photography: Lisabi Fridell, Minka Jakerson

Production designer: Elin Magnusson

Costume designer: Erik Annerborn

Editors: Ester Martin Bergsmark, Andreas Nilsson, Marlene Billie Andreasen, Hanna Storby

Sales: Garagefilm, Stockholm

No MPAA rating, 84 minutes