Something Must Break
One of the stand-out films at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival (where it won a Tiger Award) this is a powerful, tender and compelling exploration of sexuality and gender.
With Netflix and Amazon both airing glossy transgender TV work like Orange is the New Black and Transparent there is something of a commercial sea-change afoot with fare addressing queer identity.
What might appear an over-familiar coming of age tale is in fact a film of considerable depth and complexity as country boy turns city girl and meets boy. While the title, taken from a Joy Division song, suggests this will be a dour hard-hitting exploration of sexual identity – which in places it undoubtedly is – it is also far more accomplished and nuanced than this might suggest.
The current wave of Nordic crime thrillers seems to have revitalised the confidence and ambition of Scandinavian filmmakers, and while a completely different kind of film, there is no doubting the formal brio and emotional verve on display. At once as edgy, honest and inventive as its long list of international festival invitations suggest, it is also swooningly romantic, moving and exciting viewing.
Sebastian comes to the big city seeking the freedom to shift from he to she and live as Ellie, her true self. As Ellie, she forms a volatile romantic relationship with the self-identifyingly straight Andreas. When Andreas discovers Ellie’s secret he is deeply conflicted, something which Ellie expects him to simply deal with. But while Andreas in private is head over heels with Ellie, in public he finds himself struggling against social convention and consumed by how his friends will judge him.
Both find themselves bucking against social convention and yearning for a simpler world seemingly only available to them in private, where gender is irrelevant and their humanity and sexual compatibility are all that matter. But reality is not so simple and neither is this film which never cops out but instead mines its characters with sensitivity, vitality and aplomb.