Movie Review - Heartstone (Hjartasteinn)
Unlike Under the Tree, this film isn't or doesn't feel totally modern or arguably in any time past the year 2010 or even 2000. The entire film takes place in a rural area in East Iceland, far, far away from Reykjavik, the capital and largest city on the island. All the technology seems from 30 years ago or longer. There are no cell phones. The television box is a box of the cathode ray variety and not a flat screen. The video game, the only video game located inside a convenience store, looks like an old arcade. The only working vehicles appear to be farm equipment, perhaps from the mid to late 20th century, which would explain certain attitudes about the film's main subject matter.
Written and directed by Guõmundur Arnar Guõmundsson, the film opens with Thor catching glimpses, if not outright staring at his shirtless friends. He is at once curious and perhaps longing. He looks into a mirror and kisses it. He peers at his own body reflecting on his growth and physical changes. He is either just gawking or he's allured, indicating of course some urges within, but there is also an instinct to hide it, mainly because his sisters are inclined to enter his room without knocking whilst he's asleep or naked and acting on those urges in his bed.
Yet, the fact the film feels like it's set in the past is another explanation for Thor or anyone else's instinct to hide such urges or explorations. Otherwise, one might find it odd, given that Iceland is seen as a very progressive state, especially since 2009 when Iceland become the world's first to elect an openly gay person as head of its government. This is no cure for homophobia, but it would make certain actions here a tad off. Guõmundsson is clearly looking back on his countryside and not in nostalgia as is the tendency these days but instead with stark concern and possibly a little regret.
For 75 minutes, however, there is a legitimate question of which one of the two boys is actually gay. Some might be disappointed to learn this story isn't a romance. It's a friendship, a loving one for sure, a very strong bond, but not of the romantic sort. Arguably, both explore the idea but distinctively one is gay and the other is not. Guõmundsson keeps it in the air about which one is which.
Therefore, this film can be placed firmly in the wave of recent films from around the world, mainly outside the English-speaking nations, about young men who are perhaps still school-age and who live in some rural area exploring what could be considered homosexual relationships. A scene in a pool here reminded me of Mischa Kamp's Boys (Jongens) from the Netherlands and even Papu Curotto's Esteros from Argentina. As with Kamp and Curotto, this film swims in the same sensuality and plotless narrative, driven by desiring acknowledgment and acceptance of feelings and emotions of the queer kind.
Not Rated but contains some language and some nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 9 mins.
In Select Theaters on Sept. 29, including the Laemmle Music Hall.
Available on DVD and VOD on Oct. 10 via Breaking Glass Pictures.
If you like this film, also check out Fair Haven and Being 17.