Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Icelandic idyll


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When one character says to another, "Just stop being weird and everything will be fine," every LGBTQ person will sigh with recognition because someone in their lives has uttered this disparaging line to them. This irksome familiarity in the new DVD "Heartstone" from Iceland (Breaking Glass) will strike a nerve with viewers. The universal confusion, guilt, and emotional turmoil of discovering one's sexual identity are reflected in this drama from a remote part of the world. "Heartstone" also adopts an opposite perspective on the unrequited love a gay boy feels for a straight friend, invigorating an often-tired theme.

Thor (Baldur Einorsson) and Kristjan (Blaer Hinrikson) are 14-year-old best friends living in an isolated fishing village far from cosmopolitan Reykjavik. The cherub-like, immature Thor is still physically developing, despondent that he has no pubic hair. Kristjan may look like an Aryan god when he reaches adulthood. Both boys come from troubled families. Thor's father abandoned his mother Hulda (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir) for a younger woman, leaving her alone to raise Thor and his two older sisters, who tease him unrelentingly. Kristjan's father is an alcoholic, physically abusive, and homophobic. Thor and Kristjan find refuge in each other as they are bullied by a red-haired classmate.

Thor becomes romantically interested in Beta (Dilja Vasldottir), who is sexually more experienced than him, which in turn helps Kristjan see that despite trying to drum up feelings for Hanna (Katla Njalsdottir), he's really in love with Thor. There are camp trips, sleepovers with experimentation, and working on a sheep farm. Kristjan attempts to make his feelings known to Thor, who initially is obtuse, but is later bothered by them. This is one of those close-knit towns that know everyone's business. Kristjan has trouble processing his apprehension over his sexuality, which will lead to a crisis for him and Thor.

With its volcanic coast, Iceland is itself a character in "Heartstone." The boys take out their frustrations by bashing fish on rocks, or smashing up car wrecks. First-time writer-director Godmundur Arnar Gudmundsson is empathetic to his characters, having grown up in a similar town. But "Heartstone" has flaws, including its two-hours length and dawdling pace. Most of the movie is centered on Thor and his burgeoning sexuality, but his struggles aren't as compelling as the painful emotional arc Kristjan must travel. We're more invested in Kristjan's emotionally charged battles, so viewers will mourn his lack of screentime. Still, "Heartstone" has intelligence and sensitivity, with expressive, naturalistic performances from the two leads and a few sympathetic female characters. The film is a mixed bag, but with its sensuality, physicality. and phenomenal cinematography by Sturla Grovlen, intriguing enough that we look ahead to Gudmundsson's next feature.

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