The dynamic relationship people share with personal trauma is examined in this emotionally complex and sensitively written debut feature by Australian filmmaker Ben Lawrence.
Memories and the role they play in our lives sits at the core of Hearts and Bones, giving Lawrence and co-writer Beatrix Christian plenty of tough, poignant material to work with as they follow the friendship between photojournalist Daniel Fisher (Hugo Weaving) and South Sudanese refugee Sebastian Aman (Andrew Luri).
Here, Weaving has been given one of his most endearing roles in quite some time, showing genuine compassion as a shaken Sydney-based photojournalist most known for his work in war torn countries. His time spent documenting human pain and misery has taken it’s toll, as viewers tragically witness in the film’s unthinkable opening scenes.
As drawn out as some of the later developments are, Lawrence has been wisely economical with the primal source of Daniel’s ongoing PTSD, comfortable enough to let the viewer sit with that knowledge while the film’s other characters remain in the dark about what happened during those pivotal moments. This knowledge has an incredibly touching and emotional payoff in the film’s closing scene, revealed with one short excursion by cinematographer Hugh Miller.
The inevitable moral questions of being a passive observer during some of the worst moments in peoples’ lives is immediately threaded into the story from the start, revisited several times throughout. Surprisingly the strongest scene tied to this heavy topic isn’t from either Sebastian or Daniel, but their partners Anishka (Bolude Watson) and Josie (Hayley Mcelhinney), respectively.
Lawrence maintains a very tender and homegrown atmosphere for Hearts and Bones, which was shot in Western Sydney and references places like Croydon and Parramatta, where many refugees live. No doubt many who have escaped just as much pain as Sebastian, the context of which only strengthens this restrained drama.
Luri himself is a refugee from Southern Sudan, and had no acting experience prior to being scouted for this role simply because he fit it like a glove. As a soft-spoken taxi driver who tries to convince Daniel not to display photos of his village and violent past in an upcoming exhibition, the newcomer shines with sincerity and helps Lawrence squeeze wring a lot of authenticity out of the script. Weaving is abundant with gravitas to help solidify the film’s strongest moments, but its Luri who is the heart of this story.
Much like Daniel, Lawrence is a knowing observer to the interplay between pain and catharsis mirrored by both Sebastian and Daniel. He treats his direction as such, gently walking around corners and pulling back behind walls to give these his four primary characters space to really unpack and purge their emotions. The raw production only adds to that, feeling like an amateur project and a professional piece all at the same time.
On the surface, there’s beautifully executed advocate for exposure therapy in the face of PTSD. Although deeper is a human survey on the global refugee crisis and the importance of those in a privileged position to handle with care when they broach the lives of others. For Lawrence to achieve this in such a heartfelt and affecting way is a testament to the talent of all involved.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Hearts and Bones is now available for digital download via iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Sony PlayStation, Telstra and Fetch TV, followed by DVD on June on 3rd June.