First feature from Icelandic director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson, this year Venice's Queer Lion award receiver, which also competes in the Venice Days category. HEARTSTONE patiently limns a poignant coming-of-age crisis between two 14-year-old boys Thor (Einarsson) and Kristján (Hinriksson) in a remote fishing village with admirable unpretentiousness and sensitivity, only if its 129 minute length could have been pared down into something more coherent to deaden a tinge of fatigue instigated by its monotonous locale and milieu.
There is no one single second taking us away from the placid community, so first-timer Guðmundsson enlists famed DP Sturla Brandth Grøvlen to majestically singles out Iceland's unique coastal landscape and topography to an effect that it effectively looms large as a wordless character breathing menace and bleakness within spitting distance, which is aesthetically enthralling in its own terms, especially for us, armchair sightseer.
Thor and Kristján are thick as thieves, yet physically, the latter is in full-blown physique, tall and robust, while the former is vexed by the fact that his pubic hair has yet to sprout. Nevertheless, impelled by nascent sexual awakening, curiosity or even boredom, Thor tentatively chases local gal Beta (Valsdóttir), and naively thinks they can form a secure rectangle of two pairs, him and Beta, Kristján and Hanna (Njálsdóttir), Beta's bestie. As any boring teenagers stuck in a hamlet before the circulation of Internet and smart phone, they arrange secret sleepover, play truth-or-dare until Kristján becomes a killjoy when Thor and him share a platonic kiss, a warning sign too big to ignore, and inevitably they attempt boy-girl intimacy, but a self-conscious Kristján bluntly flinches from Hanna's advance while Thor successfully scores with Beta.
Also, audience will realize in the halfway that the film has been subtly and unswervingly shifting its preference from the usual subject - the one who struggles with his sexual orientation and gestates an unspeakable affection towards his best friend - to the unknowingly desired, a heterosexual boy who can playfully joke about homosexuality, but the fact that his best friend, with whom he spends every day, playing and messing around, is secretly in love with him, has completely eluded him, until something bad happens and he becomes the last one to know. The same old story, we have seen many a time, but the changing of focal point assuages the tragic undertow and takes its aim to show what happens to those who are affected, when the film reaches its tail end, it is ultimately affirmative, not at all self-congratulatory, in the end of the day, their bond doesn't turn sour because of the revelation and its controversial nature, on the contrary, it has been bolstered up since the purity of their friendship has never been sullied, this is what really counts, no matter that they have to face the unpleasant separation, c'est la vie. As in the final scene, the metaphor is self- evident, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, there is a tough world out there, not just for all the Kristjáns.
Leading actor Baldur Einarsson, is a key factor attributes to the movie's triumph of hitting its emotional core with appreciable compassion and conviction, such an unfeigned force of nature to be reckon with in his debut, and he incredibly captures the challenging emotional heave of his rite- of-passage. The rest cast is given lesser arcs to juggle with, nevertheless, Hinriksson impresses with his physical forbearance in one symbolic scene where he dabbles into a freezing pool in the wilderness, whilst Filippusdóttir, who plays Thor's mother, actually, a single mother of 3 teenagers, frustratingly beckons an inauspicious future of adulthood (both Thor and Kristján's familial situations are far from perfect), of those who are enmeshed in that narrow-mindness and dreariness, astonishing scenery is for gallant tourists only, it cannot fill the void of emptiness in those who are powerlessly stuck.
An exceptional discovery in Venice 73', HEARTSTONE should be on the watch-list of cinephiles who has a sweet tooth for tactful character analysis or exotic atmosphere, there is absolutely no question that it can be resonant with a far broader demography on top of its queer tag.