Heartstone

milkboys Films, Films & Cinema 24 Comments

Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson makes a promising debut in this tender, slightly lopsided study of teenage friendship and inchoate sexuality.

There’s a vast, storm-hued majesty to the jagged coastal edges of Iceland that inspires hushed awe in tourists, armchair travellers and filmmakers alike, but to a teenager growing up — and, more trickily still, coming out — in this brooding idyll, it can seem like a smallest place in the world. That’s the cruelly frustrated perspective shared by two best friends in Heartstone, at least until they realise that they’re no longer experiencing the same coming-of-age crisis. Richly atmospheric the film toggles its main characters’ arcs for a stretch, before giving preferential treatment to the less dramatically challenging of the two. Still, first-time feature director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson steers proceedings with enough serenity and sensitivity to soften stonier hearts in the arthouse market.

In its positioning of the rural Icelandic landscape as a kind of silent, ever-present antagonist to its principals’ progress, Guðmundsson’s formally imposing debut visually and tonally recalls the work of his compatriot Runar Runarsson — whose own somber 2015 coming-of-ager, Sparrows, deployed similar physical terrain to much the same emotional effect.

The boys’ conflicted, even hostile, relationship to their environment is viscerally symbolised in a startling opening scene, which in which 14-year-old Thor and Kristján, together with a group of pals, savagely cull a school of fish in the local dock, plucking them from the water and bashing their heads on dry land. This kind of hormonally fevered destruction is what passes for fun in their sleepy maritime village, where Thor lives with his single mother — who has recently, to her children’s aggrievement, re-entered the dating scene — and two older, somewhat bullying sisters. Kristján, meanwhile, weathers a consistent stream of abuse from his hard-drinking dad.

While the two boys have a supportive social circle (including some girls with whom they make halting attempts at romance), it’s clear that they’re the most important people in each other’s lives. Tall, sturdy Kristján, already accelerating into manhood, acts as something of a protector to the less mature, none-too-aptly named Thor — who, in one of several wry observations on the occasional tedium of adolescence, fashions a merkin from hairbrush debris as he waits for his pubic hair to grow in.

But as the kids horse around and venture into tentative sexual explorations, it’ll become clear to audiences — if not quite yet to Thor himself — that Kristján’s devotion to him isn’t purely platonic. For many LGBT audiences, such inchoate, unrequited desires will register as a familiar rite of passage. Guðmundsson maps the subtle, even subconscious, strain this development places on the relationship with tact and intelligence, aided by the open, naturally expressive performances of his two young leads. But as the film drifts further into Thor’s not-quite-comprehending headspace, Kristján recedes into the background, even as his character negotiates a compelling maelstrom of warring feelings and external obstacles — including the homophobia of his own parents, as adulthood comes with its own limitations in this stymied community. To quote an Emiliana Torrini song that Thor’s sisters blissfully listen to: “If it’s so good being free/Would you mind telling me/Why I don’t know what to do with myself?”

Sympathetic as Thor’s journey to awareness is, Heartstone’s languid, rollingly repetitive storytelling never quite justifies its weighted focus on his character at the expense of his friend’s more active anguish; a more judicious edit could place both in sharper relief. (The question of how assured Thor is of his own nascent sexuality, meanwhile, is only skirtingly addressed.) Later, Guðmundsson returns to the fish motif in slightly more contrived fashion, as a bullrout is briefly taken from the water and thrown back in, plummeting briefly before finding its gills. Not everyone in this thoughtful, lyrical, slightly over-deliberate tour of a beautiful teenage wasteland gets his own sink-or-swim moment of catharsis.

Comments 24

  1. Heartstone (Trailer)
    by Palm Springs Film Festival
    Published on Dec 15, 2016
    “Comments are disabled for this video.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvNw3WqecEo
    SPARROWS (2015) – Official Trailer
    by Nimbus Film
    Published on Aug 28, 2015
    “One of the best films describing the coming of age of sparrows in a declining cruel world. “

  2. Within that very good description, three things: I take issue with one word, learned a couple of things and discovered very interesting, psychological lyrics.

    I take issue with one word in this description:
    “This kind of hormonally fevered destruction is what passes for fun in their sleepy maritime village,”
    Hormonally? No, that’s just the popular (read: politically correct) excuse for what what is more correctly: socially. A boy’s hormones don’t invite destruction just to “prove” he is some sort of “man” — it’s what the local society has ingrained upon it’s male population to be … and it’s female population to accept as “normal”. Every society does this: for boys and men to continually show (and therefore “prove”) how “macho” they can be/are … and continually presenting themselves to [their] females (and societies) they are the alpha male in their family and recognized society.

    I learned a couple of things too — merkin and bullrout. I didn’t know that people would go to the trouble of making, let alone wearing, a “merkin.” And an interesting fish: “bullrout.” Learn something every day, I say.

    Lastly, this set of lyrics is quite thought-provoking:
    If it’s so good being free
    Would you mind telling me
    Why I don’t know what to do with myself?

    Very good lyrics. … Thanks for this.

    1. Could you allow that it is both hormonal and social? At least a social set of behaviors fanned or prodded by hormonal excesses. Testosterone, by inducing a biological urge that sooner or later demands expression, literally guarantees the survival of the species. So it must be seen positively, and it can hardly be taken lightly. Still, given the constraints of civilization, and the nature of the human psyche, it also guarantees enormous frustration and grief. So it’s clearly to be lamented as well.

      As to how much of the “hormonally fevered destruction” [a wonderful phrase, by the way] can be accounted for by T-rage and how much by anti-social upbringing, I think we have to come down on the side of environmental factors fueled by young men often not thinking about the results of their actions, because they frequently see the world through a spermy white cloud.

      I would argue that a man’s physical organism (and unconscious mind) has evolved precisely to make him focus on fulfilling the natural function of propagation of the species. So ultimately, how much can we blame him for reaching his “genital prime” many years before he’s attained the maturity and ethical development to deal with it in a way that adequately takes into account societal norms?

      1. “Could you allow that it is both hormonal and social?”
        No. And I’m talking about the BASE of the situation.

        “At least a social set of behaviors fanned or prodded by hormonal excesses.”
        Again, no. You’re just offering a politically correct answer because you’re too lazy to understand what’s really going on with your body and mind.

        Testosterone doesn’t in itself make a male “go nuts” and destroy whatever is in front of him. It only regulates the biological aspects of the male, like body hair growth, genital growth (and output) and other biological things like muscular development. Probably a few other biological aspects, but certainly not psychological conditioning like committing violence just for the sake of doing it without any sexual advances — i.e., “getting a partner” and performing some sexual urge.

        Violence as demonstrated in this video (as in so many movies and TV shows) is purely environmental — frustration because the male has not “advanced” his own alpha-male psyche conditioning of being able to act out his base sexual urges or acquiring his desired “mate.”

        Natively, a man will kill only to either: protect himself and/or family from that animal or to feed himself and his family. Any other killing (destruction) is purely societal (environmental).

        “Testosterone, by inducing a biological urge that sooner or later demands expression, literally guarantees the survival of the species.”
        Yes, and that basic urge is sexual, not environmental destruction if one’s not in any danger or to protect his mate/family.

  3. 😘Thor’s adorable which is slightly contrary to his namesake in some regards but he makes this one Thor movie that I’d actually be eager to watch!
    “Heartstone” appears to be a very intense COA film, one that pulls no punches which in today’s films is a rarity. I would love to see it one day when it’s released on disc,(hopefully!) or PFV.
    Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  4. Thank God for Scandinavia. Life becomes a bit deja vu at 80, but every once in a while something like Billy the Musical or this film comes along to give you that “thank God I’ve lived to see this” feeling.

  5. why are like 8 year olds exploring their sexuality. lmfao they r way too young to be in a film this blatantly mature

    1. You need to rejoin a society and learn how to determine ages. You’re WAY OFF. Or, are you just an ignorant TROLL?

  6. I watched this. It was beautiful, heartbreaking and frighteningly relatable.
    I’m in love with them both.

  7. @Drayden
    😁Hey guy it’s been awhile, hope you’re doing well!
    😏Meh on Aaron but did you catch the news here that Grayson Chance came out as gay?

  8. Yeah i did !
    love greyson
    Didn’t really know aaron but i remember Josh posted about him with the caption “He used to be the star of my wet dreams as a kid”, so thought at least he should know

    1. Can’t remember where I read this, it may be crap, but I read that Eiljah Wood broke him in when he was 14, and used his Face and Hair as a cum receptacle?

      1. There’s still LOTS of questions about Eiljah Wood’s sexuality. He was a very gifted child actor (and cute as a button as well). He still hasn’t married and don’t think there are any rumors around now about any girlfriend/steady date he may have.

        He was particularly good in 2 movies:
        The Good Son
        Radio Flyer
        Both of those also with very interesting co-stars.

  9. 😘Dray
    ~No question that he was absolutely adorable but in some ways I really think we’re all just a little bit bi in one way or another😏… Even if we don’t admit it.

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