Directed by Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson
Country: Iceland / Denmark
Heartstone, the directorial debut by the Icelandic Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson, is a coming-of-age drama that leaves an ambivalent impression as the force of the written material opposes to some obstacles regarding pace, duration, and cinematography.
The story is set mostly during summer in a small Icelandic farming village, where the teens Thor (Baldur Einarsson) and Christian (Blaer Hinriksson) are best friends. They support each other when an older red-haired bully messes with them, or when they have a hard time at home, which is a recurrent situation.
Thor’s father left home and headed south where he now lives with a much younger woman. Attempting to suppress loneliness, Thor’s mother, Hulda (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir) occasionally sleeps with a ‘friend’. However, this behavior doesn’t please her daughter, Rakel (Jónína Pórdís Karlsdóttir), who in a defying hysteria hits her mom with words and fists. Also Christian is far from enjoying happy moments next to his family, living constantly ashamed of his irresponsible, alcoholic father, Sigurdur (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson), who can’t really offer him what a father should offer to a son at such a complicated age.
As they hang out with other friends, their sexuality eagerly awakens, becoming an imminent, inescapable, and sometimes painful aspect to deal with. Thor has a crush on Beth (Diljá Valsdóttir), who reciprocates the feeling. She and her friend Hanna (Katla Njálsdóttir) are the ones coaxing the boys to embrace the wildest adventures. Thor, for instance, reveals an urgency to enter adulthood and gets constrained for still lacking pubic hairs. It’s not rare that his sister finds him jerking off at home while looking at pornographic material, an embarrassment that is quickly overcome by spending time with his friends.
The solid friendship between Thor and Christian is abruptly put to a test when the latter can’t pretend anymore he’s gay. He naturally makes clear that what he feels for Thor is more than a simple friendship. Guilt and confusion quickly strike them as the story develops with slightly more interesting occurrences being reserved for the final section.
Transpiring some genuine emotions, Heartstone feels somewhat flat in the execution and a bit stuck in its moves. Christian’s character, with all its dilemmas, should be further explored and sometimes the family issues feel like pretexts to make us pity them rather than setting the atmosphere that surrounds them.
Often enveloped by shadows and darkness, the dismal visuals almost provide a proper refuge to the restless characters throughout their journey of self-discovery, which happens in a claustrophobic environment.
The performances by the debutant boy actors, Einarsson and Hinriksson, were driven with an honest, dramatic strength, leading the film to win the Queer Lion at Venice Film Festival.