It’s summer in rural Iceland, despite the fact that patches of snow can be spotted on the hills that luminously loom in the background of most of the exterior scenes in Heartstone (Hjartasteinn), the feature-length debut from director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson. Teenagers Þór (Baldur Einarsson) and Kristján (Blær Hinriksson) are on the cusp of adulthood (whose names are given as Thor and Christian for the phonetic sake of the subtitles). They hurl cheerful profanities at each other while becoming aware of the fact that sexual desire and other elements of adulthood are rapidly taking a starring role in their lives.
Such a coming-of-age story certainly treads along a much, much, much-travelled road, and the alluring appeal of this isolated, unfamiliar setting gives the tale an exoticism that might be lacking if the film was set in a part of the world that audiences were more accustomed to seeing. And yet despite the fact that the story doesn’t hold any revelations, there’s a dignity to the ambling narrative, courtesy of a sense of understatement. Exquisite, naturalistic performances from Einarsson and Hinriksson combine with restraint from Arnar Guðmundsson, taking what could easily be melodramatic elements and just letting them gently simmer.
Minimalism is key here, and while it’s a given that the characters live in a village, it’s a curious realisation that the sparse collection of buildings with lush, undeveloped fields stretching out in every direction is the village in question. The setting has a minimal population with very little secrecy, which goes a long way to understanding the characters. There’s a key moment of drama that at first seems to be forced for the sake of convenience to the narrative, simply added to bring about a conclusion of sorts. But even this jarring moment quickly falls into step with the (gentle) emotional rhythm of the rest of the film. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson isn’t reinventing the wheel, but he’s certainly not trying to.
Heartstone is released nationwide on 17th November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Heartstone here: