Publication: TheMovieWaffler 8th November 2017
Two adolescent boys wrestle with their sexuality and small-town troubles.
Review by Christopher Marchant
Directed by: Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson
Starring: Baldur Einarsson, Blaer Hinriksson, Dilja Valsdottir, Katla Njalsdottir, Soren Malling
There is nothing new in the plotline of Heartstone (original title Hjartasteinn); as Thor (Baldur Einarsson) and Christian (Blaer Hinriksson) grow up, there are the big bullies and the struggling mothers and the sticky fumblings. What elevates it is a pervading realism, reminding every viewer of their own childhoods and the difficulties faced.
The story is set in a small town in Iceland. While the town itself is humdrum, the location allows for director Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson to really showcase his nation’s incredible surrounds. Mediocrity trapped in paradise.
In 2009 Johanna Sigurdardottir became Iceland’s Prime Minister, and the first openly gay leader in the world. Heartstone reminds an audience that it’s tough to grow up gay anywhere. The naming of the leads Thor and Christian is surely no coincidence, pitting Iceland’s hyper-masculine past against what should be modern compassionate and inclusive impulses.
Bad acting usually comes from a bad script, and this is never more true than in the case of child actors. That everyone here is able to give a convincing performance comes from both a talent in casting and a filmmaker’s ability to accurately reflect the desperation and absurdity of being 13 years old.
The brashness of Thor concealing his insecurities is all too familiar, as is the great conflict running beneath the surface of shy Christian. This is not a ‘boys only’ film, though my sympathies lie with Thor as he is harangued by not one but two older sisters. Beta (Dilja Valsdottir) and Hanna (Katla Njalsdottir), the girls gravitating towards the pair, are braver than Thor and Christian to a point of recklessness.
The success of Netflix animation Big Mouth has proved that dealing with teenage sexuality doesn’t have to mean kid gloves. While never once moving into perverse titillation, Heartstone is able to showcase relatable feelings. An early moment has late bloomer Thor taking hair from a brush, to see what it would look like to have pubes.
Having to guard feelings as an adolescent is a key theme of Heartstone. Blurring the line between game and attraction is part of growing up for everyone, and this is especially poignant for Christian as he figures out how to approach his attraction to Thor. Thor’s mother is spending more time with farmer Sven (Soren Malling, from The Killing and Borgen), forcing her children to confront the fact that their mother is a sexual entity.
As the film reaches its conclusion an unerring faith in merely documenting these kids lives starts to slip, and melodrama creeps in. This somewhat unconvincing turn is a shame. What would be more powerful if it were naturalistic instead starts to feel a little forced.
In showcasing friendship and the difficulty of ‘coming out’ in homophobic surrounds, Heartstone is reminiscent of last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight. This is no real criticism, as through a deft and understanding approach, both these films are able to showcase how universal these themes are. As with football, Iceland can outdo itself with filmmaking.
Heartstone is in UK cinemas November 17th.