Heartstone: Film review by Jack Cline

Set in rural Iceland, this teen drama with a queer twist has a hard edge to it, approaching some very big issues with a steady gaze that’s sometimes rather grim. That said, it’s a beautiful film, gorgeously shot in a spectacular setting. It’s also urgent and timely, and features remarkably open-handed performances from its young cast.

It centres on Thor (Baldur Einarsson), a teen who is frustrated that puberty isn’t dawning as quickly as he’d like. And his cheeky sisters continually remind him that he has no pubic hair yet, as do his group of friends. Frustrated by the constant insults, he catches a haul of fish to impress his mother, but she isn’t interested. Then he also begins to notice a new uneasiness when he’s around his best friend Christian (Blaer Hinriksson). And it feels a lot like sexual attraction.

Award-winning writer-director Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson brings this small-town community to life in continually surprising ways. There’s the town bully Ginger, who was probably tormented himself when he was a teen. Rumours here travel at lightning speed. And when Thor and Christian decide to impress two girls by borrowing a farmer’s horses, things go predictably wrong. But it’s the rampant, endemic homophobia that swirls around town that’s the most disturbing, especially since the loudest brute is Christian’s dad.

Because the film is so well made, and because the themes are so resonant, it’s almost unnerving how strongly the audience feels every hint of emotion that swirls between Thor and Christian. Both of them just long to be themselves and live honestly, accepted by the people around them. But they know this will be almost impossible in this place. As one comments, “Just stop being weird and everything will be fine.”

Where this goes is sometimes dark, and the film’s momentum wobbles in the final act. But the story is so personal that it never lets us go. The gay thoughts and feelings that Thor and Christian are dealing with are powerful enough without so much pressure from their neighbours and family members. And their series of mini-adventures keeps everything feeling bracingly realistic.

By never taking a simplistic route through this story, Gudmundsson has created a vibrant, important film about the pressures gay teens face in communities where who they are is seen as a threat. It’s a complex exploration of homophobia that continually challenges us, but it refreshingly never preaches at us.

Heartstone (15) is on DVD/VOD from Matchbox.

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