BY AMANDA CLARKE
We live in a binary world; you fit into one box or the other, but never both. No where is this strict delineation more evident than with regards to gender. You are male or you are female, and that’s where the choices end. The problem is, this is an oversimplification. There are no absolutes, only variations and combinations of them.
Ester Martin Bergsmark’s Something Must Break is a film exploring the juxtaposition of these perceived dualities. Linear story is pitted against abstract visuals, where the masculine exists alongside the feminine and the gay/straight binary is challenged. The story aspect gets a bit contrived and bogged down by the onus to create forward momentum, but visually, the film is fluid and unconstrained, creating abstraction where society has deemed there is none.
The treatment of actor Saga Becker’s body is at the heart of this abstraction. The visual style is extremely liquid, paralleling the freedom of movement exhibited by his character, Sebastian, as he hovers between his male self and female counterpart, Ellie.
Here, the male body is shot in a way that is usually reserved for the female, highlighting its sensuality and softness and revelling in the simple beauty of its form and the shapes that it creates. The sex scenes place Sebastian/Ellie in either a passive role, or in the position of giving pleasure to their partner, positions usually occupied by female characters on screen. These are techniques that usually reduce the person to a mere object of desire and remove them from a position of power. Here is where Sebastian’s power lies.
Sebastian is at a point of synergy, between the hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine, with the ability to access the qualities of both and become something bigger than either, unconstrained by definitions and expectations. Elsewhere, Sebastian takes control, initiating the romance with Andreas and taking the lead as they dance. It is the duality of Sebastian/Ellie that ultimately gives the character power over Andreas, who is stuck within the binary world of the male and female. He insists that he is not gay, but is drawn to Sebastian, a biological male, because Sebastian and Ellie are one in the same, two sides of the same coin.
Where the visuals excel, words fall short because the language to express these ideas that is not cumbersome or crude does not exist. It is the images and ideas that carry the film, and fortunately, for the most part, Bergsmark is happy to let them play out and let us draw our own conclusions, free from the constraints of our training and conditioning. In the end, Sebastian represents what it is to be human, finding the balance between what is defined and expected and what actually is.
Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival runs from May 22 – June 1. Read more Inside Out coverage.
Amanda just graduated from the U of T Cinema Studies program. She’ll watch anything that is bright and colourful and loves everything science fiction.