A Dream of Tenderness

in 46th Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival

by Nadiya Zavarova

Simplicity is the most complicated thing. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson in his debut feature film The Heartstone (Hjartasteinn) is genuinely simple and clear in his cinematic dialogue with the audience. The director also wrote the script of the film, whose every word the viewer could grasp, see clearly through the everlasting game of shade and light of human nature, and hear every sound.

The rocks fall down from the mountain into the sea, you listen to the waves trying to catch the rhythm of your own life, you feel the air getting cooler, take a deep breath and start crying – very silently, trying to hide all the fears and doubts torturing your soul. The day when you cry because of love is the day when you face your adolescence. When you realize that you cry because you accept your friend as he is, without demanding any changes and compromises from him, marks the time when you become an adult – a moment The Heartstone has captured so well.

The most timid and intimate story of friendship told on big screen in recent years, the film is set amongst the magnetic and calm Icelandic landscapes, which emphasize the desperate search of the characters for tenderness and kindness, but also their delusions in dealing with severity of human nature, or the elation they feel when encountering – albeit rarely – sincere feelings and reactions.

The camera follows two main characters – young Thor and his friend Christian rather leisurely and with the softness of a very attentive viewer, who doesn’t want to miss a thing. Through many close- ups and waistshots camera explores all changes in behavior and mood of two youngsters. All their emotions are observed very carefully, film-viewers are given a strong impression of hearing every heartbeat of the two friends, reminding of a jazz rhythm with lots of syncopation: rhythm, which changes each time we think we got it. And then comes a pause with a beautiful landscape with the sky dives into the deep sea and then, as if in a dream, turns into a naughty wave. And then we hear that jazz rhythm again, with yet another close-up emerging on screen, compelling us to attentively observe on how a first love is born and how this new feeling both inspires and frightens boys.

Cameraman Sturla Brandth Grøvlen is apparently determined to challenge the conventional idea that life represents a linear sequence of happy moments alternating with sad ones but is rather a simultaneous mixture of drama, sadness and happiness, which is to be embraced as dearest friends because it simply mean that life goes on. Which makes the first snow look like a precious gift Thor is happy to accept.

In one scene you feel the cozy atmosphere of a family dinner, which is suddenly spoiled by a rude joke aimed at a poem a young lady recites with all of her heart. The mood turns grim and hostile. The participants turn against each other – while the protagonists long to be understood, loved and accepted, they themselves are far from ready to love and understand those who are dearest to them.

This is followed by the first disappointments in friends and loved ones, the first sexual experiences. Parents are of no help as they are frustrated with their own dysfunctional relationships. So the young protagonists are left to their own devices to deal with emotions and challenging experiences. And somehow these experiences, feelings, tragedies, fears gradually become part of their own life, of their biographies: this is how they – like all of us – explore life and become adults.

Yet the director tells this story in a very sincere, sometimes rough but always frank and clear way. Perhaps this is the main reason why Guðmundsson’s film became the unique double winner at Kyiv International Film Festival Molodist, receiving both The Audience prize and the FIPRESCI jury award, which underlines the fact that when it comes to a good film people in cinema hall are not divided into two warring camps of cinephiles and film critics, but rather represent a united and grateful audience.

Edited by Christina Stojanova