Something Must Break: Hedwig Without Music

"It is an awful thing to be betrayed by your body, David Levithan asserts in his novel Every Day." And it's lonely, because you feel you can't talk about it. You feel it's something between you and the body. You feel it's a battle you will never win . . . and yet you fight it day after day, and it wears you down. Even if you try to ignore it, the energy it takes to ignore it will exhaust you." 

The above monolog perfectly mirrors the inner life of Sebastian (Saga Becker), the Swedish antihero/heroine of Ester Martin Bersgmark's accomplished offering, Something Must Break, which one critic encapsulated as "bleak" while confronting a urinal after a recent Tribeca Film Festival press screening.

An outcry against society's binary gender system that insists we must all delegate ourselves to being either male or female while residing in a generic IKEA-land, the film pursues the androgynous Sebastian as s/he searches for love when not working in a huge warehouse or dealing with her roly-poly lesbian roommate, who advises, "What you need is a good fuck!"

This manhunt for affection takes Sebastian into dangerous territories: isolated woods and fields, rank toilets, under-lit backrooms, or abandoned children's playgrounds in the post-midnight hours. And there are, of course, battle wounds upon battle wounds. The torn flesh will heal, but will a mangled psyche named Ellie, who is battling Sebastian for control of his life?

Then one day a "straight" young man, Andreas (Iggy Malmborg), rescues Sebastian from a toilet death-match. The two part ways shortly, but not before Sebastian rescues a tissue besotted with Andreas' nasal blood as a memento. Is this a finale or grand beginning of a true romance?

Of course, the "boys" meet again when a beer-sodden Andreas is peeing against a wall. The duo immediately starts walking together amongst some trees. Then the young man throws up, Sebastian wipes his mouth and steals some brew for him from a local store, and a love of sorts is born, one that includes tying an older homosexual to his bed spread-eagle and stealing his MixMaster. Add in making love in a lake, and holding hands and twirling each about in glee under streetlights. Additionally, according to my notes, sometime amongst all this unbridled ardor, or maybe when all is not going so well, a young woman sings on the soundtrack, "Piss in my mouth if it will make you love me." John Donne couldn't do it better.

Urinary concerns aside, Something Must Break boasts a japanned depressiveness so reminiscent of Fassbender (think Querelle and Fox and His Friends). However, due its main character's apparent lack of adequate schooling, the philosophical ruminations of the lead in Xavier Dolan's recent transsexual masterwork, Laurence Always, are nowhere to be heard. Don't expect any Wildean witticisms. Director/co-writer Bersgmark, himself/herself rather androgynous, has instead concocted a tale (one he explored previously in his semi-autobiographical, semi-documentary She Male Snails) that while consistently insightful, at times riveting, and always well-acted and well-shot, has a few minor missteps, scenes that could be refashioned to better effect. These minor stumbles prevent Something Must Break from attaining classic status. Yet these trifling lapses do not stop one from being aware this is the work of an exceedingly original, enormously talented helmer who will no doubt shortly be one of Sweden's most favored exports. - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village VoiceindieWire.com, the New York Daily NewsSoho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writinggroup FlashPoint.

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