Director Ben Lawrence’s previous film, Ghosthunter, was a documentary that explored one man’s journey to reconcile with his troubling past and learn how to work with it in the present. Lawrence explores that theme again the heart-wrenching Hearts and Bones.
Hugo Weaving (Jasper Jones, The Matrix trilogy) plays Dan Fisher, a photographer who has travelled to some of the most intense areas of the world to capture haunting images of inhumanity. After a brutal opening scene abroad, we find Dan back in Sydney, worse for wear. Decades of wading into tragedy to capture the perfect image are clearly beginning to take their toll on the artist. Still, he refuses to acknowledge it to anyone, including his partner, Josie (Hayley McElhinney, The Babadook). Clearly suffering from trauma, Dan is knocked for six when Josie informs him that she’s pregnant while he is elbows deep into putting together an exhibition of his work.
Into this busy and somewhat fractured life walks Sebastian Ahmed (Andrew Luri), a refugee turned cab driver, whose biggest dream is to buy a rundown house that he can call home for him and his wife, Anishka (Bolude Watson, Blue World Order). Coming to Dan’s aid after the artist collapses during a panic attack, Sebastian offers Dan the opportunity to take pictures of his refugee choir. From this humble invite, the two men begin to build a friendship and soon, Sebastian requests one small favour. The cabbie asks that Dan not use any images in his exhibition of the massacre that killed Sebastian’s family in his home country.
From here Lawrence, along with co-writer Beatrix Christian (Picnic at Hanging Rock miniseries), plunges headfirst into discussions around how people, particularly men, process their pain and past trauma. Dan believes that keeping the images in the exhibition will help remind people in places of privilege about the atrocities that happen outside their bubble. For Sebastian, this reminder of the past – his past – acts as a blockade towards moving forward with his new family in Sydney. Like Dan’s damage from secondary trauma, Sebastian would rather push his pain and past way down into a place where it can never surface again. As the men’s lives become further entwined, Hearts and Bones takes what could have easily been a one and done melodrama and turns it into a highly emotional tale of redemption.
Neither man can nor want to admit their faults. They position themselves as protectors and providers in the eyes of their loved ones; to be anything less would shatter the women’s worldview, surely? Not that the film tries to paint its leads as faultless. During one of his now frequent panic attacks, Dan laments about all the ‘sacrifices’ he’s made to support Josie before being brought violently back down to earth by his lover for using his trauma to hurt her. These moments of humanity and honesty litter the film throughout.
While Weaving’s performance as the dishevelled Dan is strong, Luri gives a performance that is equal to his co-star’s, if not more so, and that’s despite this being his first time on the screen. His scenes at Sebastian’s home with Watson feel so natural and warm, it’s like we’re sneaking a peek through their living room window. The film may have started with Dan, but this is Sebastian’s story at the end of the day. This point is compounded in the closing credits when Lawrence presents to the audience a series of confronting real photographs of refugees set to the backdrop of Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.”
Hearts and Bones tries to cover a multitude of issues, from immigration to masculinity, and the fact it manages to do so, giving equal weighting to each one it tackles, solidifies the notion that it is indeed a classic piece of cinema.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★★
Madman Films releases ‘Hearts and Bones’ is in limited Australian cinemas from June 22 (theatrical release info HERE), and had its Australian Digital release on May 6th and DVD release on June 3rd.