Seeing teenage characters struggling with their sexuality is nothing new to the world of cinema, but Heartstone explores its subject matter in such a beautifully subtle way that it feels like a special, unique film in its own right. It does not delve deeply into sentimentality; it is what the characters do not say, rather than what they don't, that creates the film's poignancy.
Heartstone takes place in a quiet fishing village in Iceland, and the setting immediately helps to establish the personalities of the two main characters. The film opens with best friends Þór (pronounced as "Thor", played by Baldur Einarsson) and Kristján (Blær Hinriksson) fishing with a group of boys. Þór is much more aggressive with the fish that they catch, even stamping on one of them because of its apparently hideous appearance. Þór is a somewhat arrogant character who constantly tries to prove his masculinity by being verbally aggressive and moody, especially towards his family members. Kristján, meanwhile, is more sensitive and is more reluctant to cause physical harm. His outward demeanour is gentle in comparison to Þór's, and if it is not already clear to the audience, it soon becomes noticeable that Kristján has romantic feelings for his best friend.
What makes Heartstone feel so genuine is that the viewer never knows with absolute certainty whether Kristján's attraction to Þór is reciprocated. If Þór does not feel romantically about Kristján, he definitely loves his best friend in a platonic way. They spend a large majority of the film going outside together and, although Þór never actually says it out loud, the viewer realises that he much prefers spending time with Kristján than with his dysfunctional family, cared for by his single mother, who her children condemn for frequently going out with men. However, Þór is trying to impress a pretty and confident teenage girl named Beta (pronounced "Beth", played by Diljá Valsdóttir), who appears to be much more sexually assured than her male counterparts. Kristján follows Þór's lead by trying to get into a relationship with Beta's best friend Hanna (Katla Njálsdóttir). Nevertheless, Kristján's attempts to act heterosexual are not at all convincing.
There have been a few critics that have complained that the film focusses more on Þór than it does on Kristján, as Kristján's homosexual feelings are much more obvious and they therefore feel like his character should have been explored in more depth. I disagree; although we sympathise with Kristján's difficult dilemma, particularly due to the fact that he has a homophobic father, Þór is the more compelling character because of his sexual ambiguity. It is up to the viewer to decide how Þór feels about Kristján and how much he is actually attracted to Beta. He is much better at concealing how he feels than his best friend is, and he plays the part of Beta's doting boyfriend convincingly.
Þór does not truly communicate through words, but rather through actions and facial expressions. Heartstone would most definitely have crumbled if two terrific young actors were not picked to play these challenging roles, but the performances by Baldur Einarsson and Blær Hinriksson cannot be faulted here. They do not feel like characters at all and play the parts of two awkward teenage boys very authentically. For two young people to perform these parts so courageously is impressive. The film is long, running for over two hours, and it does occasionally lose a bit of steam in certain areas. But Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson's directorial project is confident, bold and portrays teenage struggles in a powerfully realistic way. Come for the strong performances and gorgeous direction, and stay for the incredibly intriguing character studies.