At what age does the freedom and innocence of childhood become consumed by the mists of adolescence? The answer, of course, differs for every person, the journey to adulthood one of personal self-discovery. It’s jarring and uncomfortable dawn bringing with it the realities of adult life, sex, and relationships. Creating a transition that is often both painful and joyous in equal measure as we navigate a new world of possibilities. Of course, these themes have been central to the coming of age genre for many years. While equally finding a voice in LGBTQ filmmaking via the ‘coming out’ drama. However, few films have captured the complexity and ferociousness of the emotions and feelings attached to this journey like Heartstone (Hjartasteinn). The debut feature film from Icelandic director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson.
In a small Icelandic fishing village, Thor (Baldur Einarsson) and Kristján (Blær Hinriksson) spend their days together. Their shared childhood slowly ending as teenage life takes hold in the beauty and isolation of a coastal community where everyone knows each other’s business. Both boys finding brief moments of escape within the mountains, fields, junkyards and pools of the town. The visual beauty of the rugged cliffs and mountains morphing into a claustrophobic nightmare for teens attempting to find their independence and identity. Something Thor finds even more challenging as his physical development sits in the shadow of Kristján’s burgeoning manliness. Thor’s older sisters delighting in taunts and jokes at his lack of development while questioning his close relationship with Kristján.
Free from the constraints of school during long summer days without end. Both Thor and Kristján engage in clumsy yet tender attempts to ignite a romance with two local girls. Their insecurities kept at bay by their protection of each other. However, in a community of strong tradition and unspoken truths. Both boys find themselves questioning their relationship, as Thor falls for one of the girls, while Kristján hides his true feelings. Their ability to communicate emotions caught in a community constructed trap of conformity. One where men shield their feelings while women care for their families. However, as summer turns to autumn, then winter and childhood vanishes into the mists of adolescence. Thor and Kristján’s friendship slowly changes as both boys tentatively take their first steps into adult life.
Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson takes inspiration from Roy Andersson’s 1970 drama A Swedish Love Story. In dovetailing teenage life with themes of community, family, conflict, and isolation. From the town bullies who haunt the local cafe where young people meet, through to the family dynamics that impact a sense of personal security and wellbeing. Allowing Heartstone to capture the reality of the emotions, fears, and joys of early adolescence. While never dismissing the turbulence and conflict of change. As the body begins to demand attention while the mind remains caught in a void between childhood innocence and adult responsibility. Both battling for attention in a sea of hormones that take both boys from excitement to fear in a heartbeat.
It is on top of this complex and rich exploration of early adolescence that Heartstone layers the differing experience of emerging sexuality. Carefully and slowly enabling both Thor and Kristján time within the narrative to explore their emotional connection. With the sublime performances of both Baldur Einarsson and Blær Hinriksson wrapping us in a realism rarely achieved in the genre. As both characters slowly emerge from the chrysalis of boyhood into adolescence. One finding their wings while the other struggles to take flight under a cloud of confusion and shame. Not only reflecting the urgency and excitement of early sexual exploration but placing this within a cage of community oppression and tradition. Ultimately exploring similar themes to those found within both Gods Own Country and Show Me Love. Where the role of community and place directly affect the ability of young people to grow and develop.
Both beautiful and haunting in equal measure, Heartstone delivers a truly exceptional sense of place. Its 129 minutes run time, allowing the audience space to meditate on the emotion and beauty laced into every scene. As we are all taken back to the final summer of childhood where the clouds of adult life descended without warning. Our bodies and minds engulfed in a need for adventure, escape and belonging, as our hearts find their true path in both love and desire.
Director: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
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