This award winning debut film, from a trans-identified Swedish film maker, explores sexuality, gender and relationships through the lives of young people living in Stockholm. Sabastian, a warehouse worker, has been born into a male body but feels female.
S/he meets Andreas when he protects Sabastian from a homophobic attack. This leads to their friendship and later a relationship. However, Andreas’s insecurity leads him to reject the relationship, saying, “I am not gay.” Sabastian is increasingly drawn towards expressing his femininity, dressing as a woman and using the name Ellie. We see the torture that Ellie feels having to live in a male body, and her longing to be a woman in a relationship with a man puts her in dangerous situations on Stockholm’s streets in trying to fulfil this desire.
This internal battle leads to drug use and suicidal thoughts. However, Sabastian comes to realise that Ellie “would rise up out of this, rise up much higher than me”. Andreas and Sabastian meet after a break and Ellie is more able to be expressed — they dream of a life together, setting about collecting the accoutrements of coupledom by stealing items for their home. However, Andreas’s insecurity haunts the relationship leading to further pain for them both.
The film ends on an optimistic note despite the pain that Ellie and others around her have gone through. Newcomer Saga Becker gives a luminous performance as the lead character, Ellie. Other characters are not fully developed and we lack a background history that would lead us to know why Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) acts in destructive ways.
The director, Bergsmark, has created an often visually beautiful film which contrasts the ugliness of society’s prejudice with the hope of future enlightenment. Swedish society is also shown up for its hollow Ikea consumerism which peddles fake dreams of happiness. There are few films around that depict the struggles of an individual who is growing up in the wrong body, the torture, but also the possibilities that might be realised.
The film shows how transgender desires challenge the way in which current gender roles are polarised in society. Bergsmark has said, “I want to challenge how we perceive things that we take for granted by pointing the camera in directions the audience didn’t know they could look. They call for your hidden selves to step out into the open.”