‘Hearts and Bones’ Review
How would you feel if someone photographed the worst moment of your life, and then exhibited it for the world to see? That question is at the heart of Hearts and Bones, the first narrative feature from writer-director Ben Lawrence. His co-writer is Beatrix Christian, who also wrote the screenplay for Jindabyne, an excellent 2006 film directed by Ben’s father, Ray Lawrence.
Daniel Fisher (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings franchises) is a renowned war photographer, and we first see him on assignment in 2018 Iraq. When he returns home to the suburbs of Western Sydney, his longtime partner Josie (Hayley McElhinney, The Babadook, 2014) surprises him with news that she’s pregnant. They still struggle with the pain of losing their daughter, Eve. On top of that, Fisher’s work is scheduled to be the centerpiece of a high profile exhibit. The stress manifests itself physically through shaking hands and fainting spells.
Fisher is a bit of a mess when he’s tracked down by Sebastian Ahmed (the screen debut of Andrew Luri), who requests that Fisher not include photographs of the massacre which occurred in his South Sudanese village 15 years prior. Sebastian says the memories are too painful, as he lost his family during that time. He’s now a refugee building a new life for his pregnant wife Anishka (Bolude Watson) and their young child. Sebastian works as a taxi driver and in a commercial laundromat, and when he pushes Anishka to let him buy a house for their family, she says matter-of-factly, “We work. That is our life. It’s all we do.” It’s a frustrating dose of reality for Sebastian, who sees a house as confirmation that they belong.
There is so much going on in what, on the surface, appears to be a quiet little film where two men form an unlikely friendship. PTSD is a factor for both men, as war has left its mark, as it so often does. Sebastian has kept his past life a secret from his wife, but that’s only part of the story when it comes to why he doesn’t want the photographs exhibited. Fisher is described as “documenting human pain and misery,” while his work is labeled “misery porn.” Is that fair? We get both sides of the gray area associated with that question noted in my first paragraph above.
Filmmaker Lawrence benefits from four terrific performances, and though the ending is a bit shaky, the stress and emotional turmoil that those four characters endure is extremely well handled. “Who are you?” is a question Anishka asks her husband, and by the end, it can be asked of all four characters. There is little wonder why this has been so warmly received on the film festival circuit. It’s thought-provoking and emotional.
Hearts and Bones is available on Google Play.