Often bleak, but always stylish, Break My Fall is all about the disintegrating relationship between two tragically hip London ladies. First time director Kanchi Wichmann has an astounding eye for realistic drama and offers serious talent behind the camera, painting one of the most intimate portraits of lost love the lesbian scene has ever seen.
Sally (Sophie Anderson) and Liza (Kat Redstone) are bandmates and girlfriends living smack in the middle of the queer scene in London. They live in a crappy flat and they are clearly on their last legs when we first meet them. The very first scene sees Liza wistfully pouring over old footage of happier days, a performance only a few years prior where both women are playing their hearts out and making doe eyes at one another.
In stomps Sally after a hard night’s work at a local restaurant, exhausted and annoyed when Liza tells her the laptop is broken. They cuddle for a moment, but already, it’s obvious that something is very wrong between them.
Soon after, we’re introduced to Vin (Kai Brandon Ly) a sexually confused hustler who always has a nice little stash of coke for our heroines. Both Liza and Sally (and Vin for that matter) are struggling with addiction on top of their other personal woes. Drinking and drugs are part of almost every scene, as is the unpleasant aftermath (there’s more vomiting in this movie than you’ll see in about six pregnant lesbian flicks).
We also meet Jamie (Collin Clay Chace) the sexy young gay drummer in the band, a dude who always seems to have a new boy on his arm in every scene. He loves his bandmates and supports them in every way, though he also acts as something of an enabler.
Making matters more complicated, Vin is hot for Sally, and Liza is supremely jealous of Sally’s every move – especially when she gets a fan letter from her ex-girlfriend. As they fumble through what feels like their last days together, Liza’s desperation, jealousy and need to feel loved collides in increasingly ugly ways with Sally’s indifference and distance.
Things even explode into violence, and there is a love scene that devolves into ugliness almost as soon as it starts. The violence is jarring and scary – this is a film of quiet moments and long lingering takes as the protagonists drift through rooms, pondering their happier days. When angry emotions clash and our characters hurt each other, emotionally and physically, the result is uncomfortably intimate and devastating.
There’s a definite musical quality to the film. Not only are there long, music video-like scenes of our characters partying, but those lingering takes punctuated by violence and anger feel like movements in a symphony. The dialogue is less important than the emotional flow, and there are times when viewing feels less like watching a movie and more like witnessing unstable elements combine and clash in a sea of emotion.
Wichmann has a truly uncanny ability to construct raw, real, natural scenes, and the movie lives and dies by the authenticity of the performances. Thankfully, our principles are up to the task.
Redstone gives herself completely to Liza’s seething pain and sadness. This is a young woman who knows, deep down, that she’s about to lose everything, and she spends the film clawing desperately to hold on. Anderson is equally committed to Sally, constantly exasperated, confused and violently ambivalent about what she really wants. Both Ly and Chace are excellent as well, friends (family, really) to our downtrodden couple, but this is Anderson and Redstone’s show, all the way.
The pace of the film is occasionally meandering, but given the musical metaphor it makes sense. The only scene that doesn’t fit perfectly is an odd sequence wherein Liza meets a woman at a bar, does coke with her in the men’s room, and goes home with her (Jamie in tow – she’s not looking to cheat), only to hear about the woman’s secretly married ex-girlfriend. There’s a hefty dose of bisexual bashing thrown in, and as the woman never shows up again, it just feels like a weird one-off sequence.
Break My Fall is nothing if not incredibly stylish. Shot beautifully with handheld cameras and attractive, screwed-up people doing screwed-up things, it’s a singular meditation on sex, drugs and rock and roll as they affect our heroines. It’s equally adept at showing the intoxicating side of a life of partying and its unpleasant after effects (on bodies, on relationships, on love), and it does so without a mommy character coming in to ruin everyone’s fun – or ease their misery.
If you’re allergic to hipsters or tragic, heart-breakingly real accounts of romantic failure, you should stay away, but everyone else should give the film a shot. It’s the most honest, raw, lovingly crafted film of its kind to show up this year, and powerful enough to knock even the most stalwart viewer out of any sense of complacency.
Watch the trailer for Break My Fall: