Friday, October 6, 2017

Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson's fraught, Icelandic coming-of-age tale, HEARTSTONE

Think back to your own early-teen-age time and the fear you felt that most likely turned into everything from aggression to depression, loneliness and seclusion to acting out in sometimes odd ways and you'll have a good idea of the content of Icelandic filmmaker Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson in his deeply-felt and beautifully filmed HEARTSTONE. In it, the writer/director, pictured below, tells the tale of two boys on the cusp of that time when one's secondary sex characteristics are about to appear and so much begins to change -- in and to one's body.

The lead characters here are fast friends Þór and Kristján (played with utter commitment and honesty by Baldur Einarsson and Blær Hinriksson, shown below and on the poster above, left and right, respectively), who, as puberty hits, find their feelings, particularly those budding sexual ones, moving in different directions. One boy is focused on a local girl, while the other is growing ever more attached to his friend. Yes, a lot of angst ensues.

Fortunately, taking place as the film does in a small Icelandic community far from the major city of Reykjavik, the scenery is stunning and the sense of place that the filmmaker is able to capture plants us firmly in this unusual terrain.

The culture here, too, is both expected and yet exotic -- so different in some ways, similar in others, from its American counterpart that the behavior of the kids on view, along with their parents and other adult townspeople, is consistently interesting and just a little strange, too.

The girls of the town, though they may be the same age as these boys, are clearly more mature (as seems to be the case worldwide), and so our troubled-but-trying fellow's fumbled connections to his would-be girlfriend are both funny and sad,

as are those of his older sister and her best friend (above), who treat little brother in that same alternately sweet/affectionate and can't-stop-making-fun-of-him manner that older siblings so often do.

It's the other boy, however, whose plight seems so much more difficult. Gay is still something of a stigma in Iceland, particularly, as would be expected, in small towns. How the sadder of our two heroes handles this is maybe to be expected but is still difficult for the viewer to bear. How his friend handles it, too, is troubling but very believable.

What saves Heartstone from being a dirge and a mire is its magnificent locations coupled to performances from the entire cast that ring absolutely true. The parents have their own troubling issues, and the children, as usual, are still unable to process completely and certainly unable to put into sensible words and thoughts all of the angst that's going on inside them. They all blunder through, just as most of us did (and maybe still do). The ending, by the way, is brilliant, harking back to the film's beginning with a bit of perfect symbolism that adds just a dollop of necessary hope.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running a lengthy but never boring 129 minutes, after opening theatrically in Los Angeles last week, the movie hits DVD and VOD this coming Tuesday, October 10 -- for purchase and/or rental. I'd call it a keeper.

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