A totally persuasive view of youngsters in today’s highly sexualised world.


Without being overshadowed in the process, this is a film that invites comparison with two of this year’s outstanding releases, Call Me by Your Name and The Florida Project. What makes that even more remarkable is the fact that it marks the feature debut of its writer/director Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson. He has here drawn on his own background growing up in a fishing village in Iceland and against this setting, admirably photographed without ever becoming picturesque, he gives us a contemporary tale of teenage life.


To achieve that he concentrates on two families and, in particular, on two sons. The pre-pubertal Thor (Baldur Einarsson) has a father who has deserted his mother so that he now lives with just her and his two sisters. His best friend, slightly older, is Christian (Blær Hinriksson) whose parents, heading for divorce, are rather distant in their dealings with him. The other main characters are two girls who often link up with the two boys, Beta (Diljá Valsdóttir) having an eye for Thor while Hanna (Katia Njálsdóttir) is drawn to Christian. In time we realise that Christian’s real feelings are for Thor. Because of their close bond as friends, they are sometimes referred to jokily as a couple, but that is no more than banter until Christian begins to realise that he is indeed gay - a fact all the more disturbing to him because his father is homophobic.


If the focus on a central relationship with strong gay elements links this film to Call Me by Your Name, Gudmundsson’s emphasis on the daily lives of youngsters rather than on any strong plot as such is akin to the approach taken in The Florida Project. As in the latter film, the sense of authenticity carries the piece and in an extremely talented cast young Baldur Einarsson is extraordinary. However central the gay issue is, Heartstone offers a broader view of youngsters today. All of the young people here, whatever their sexuality, represent a world in which the idea of childhood innocence has virtually disappeared: their talk underlines how sexually knowing they are, how driven to experimentation in this field and yet how lacking in the understanding of real emotion that maturity should eventually bring. In portraying this, Heartstone is deeply sensual but never soft (its portrait of nature is tough too).


The first half of Heartstone is near-perfect but, not altogether surprisingly and despite an admirable closing scene that had me thinking of Ozu, the long running time (129 minutes) has its drawbacks. Later scenes need a greater sense of direction and the film might have benefited had it been presented as a tale of his childhood told by the adult Thor, thus preparing us just enough for what is to come. But, regardless of these reservations, this is a truly memorable debut (I found its characters and their situation far more sympathetic than those in Francis Lee’s well-intentioned God’s Own Country) and one looks forward to finding out what Gudmundsson will do next.




Cast: Baldur Einarsson, Blær Hinriksson, Diljá Valsdóttir, Katia Njálsdóttir, Jónína Thórdis Karklsdóttir, Rán Ragnarsdóttir, Nina Dögg Filippusdóttir, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Nanna Kristin Magnúsdóttir, Søren Malling, Gunnar Jónsson, Daniel Hans Erlendsson,Theodór Pálsson, Sveinn Sigurbjörnsson.


Dir Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson, Pro Anton Máni Svannson, Lise Orheim Stender, Jesper Morthorst and Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson, Screenplay Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson, Ph Sturia Brandth Grøvlen, Pro Des Hulda Helgadóttir, Ed Anne Østerud and Janus Billeskov Jansen, Music Kristian Selin and Eidnes Andersen, Costumes Helga Rós V. Hannam.


SF Studio Production/Join Motion Pictures/RÚV/CosmoTone-Matchbox Films.
129 mins.
Iceland/Denmark. 2016. Rel: 17 November 2017. Cert TBC.