Where you might expect familiarity, Heartstone continually complicates and deepens its “innocence lost” narrative to tell a tale both fresh and universal. Expressive kinetic camerawork conveys boyish energy, while Guðmundsson’s screenplay and casting work together to pick at the power dynamics among its central group of boys. This sets up entrancing dramatisation of the friendship between Thor (Einarsson) and Christian (Hinriksson), whose interactions subtly play with and blur the line between homoerotic playfighting and acknowledged attraction.
Our immersion in their world is gradually augmented by a trickle of insights into their family lives, suggestively elevating their relationship into a sacred space of solace from oppressive femininity and parental fallibility. The focus on the boys’ experiences is so resolute that elsewhere characterisation does suffer in comparison; parents can be simplistically villainous and there’s a tiresome stock bully.
Yet Heartstone is a triumph of cinematic subtext. The sublime lead performances are full of feelings their characters can’t name. Although the overall trajectory of the boys’ relationship is predictable, the details are anything but, and these allow for moments of staggering power that break through the gorgeous sensuous languor while deepening our understanding of the community’s way of life.
Kristian Eidnes Andersen’s swelling score surprisingly resembles that of Interstellar, complementing Iceland’s luscious landscapes while being romantic enough to add to moments of tension. Its drama also perfectly underscores Heartstone’s recourse to imagery of animal violence, a motif which represents how humans hurt each other, but which is ultimately transfigured into cautious optimism.
Heartstone is the Moonlight that never grew up; it spends two beautiful and increasingly painful hours in the youthful awakening chapter of the boys’ lives. Guðmundsson never fully lets go of ambiguity, leaving room for the possibility that the surfacing feelings are unwittingly requited. If only there was another chapter.
CAST: Baldur Einarsson, Blær Hinriksson, Diljá Valsdóttir, Katla Njálsdóttir
DIRECTOR: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
WRITER: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
SYNOPSIS: A remote fishing village in Iceland. Teenage boys Thor and Christian experience a turbulent summer as one tries to win the heart of a girl while the other discovers new feelings toward his best friend. When summer ends and the harsh nature of Iceland takes back its rights, it’s time to leave the playground and face adulthood.