×

Sydney Film Review: ‘Hearts and Bones’

A war photographer and a South Sudanese refugee become friends in Western Sydney and find much in common despite their differences.

Director:
Ben Lawrence
With:
Hugo Weaving, Andrew Luri, Hayley McElhinney, Bolude Watson.

Running time: 107 MIN.

Time spent in a modern war zone can be traumatic for participant and observer alike, yet across continents and cultures, the shared experiences of living and loving in the wake of such experiences can be startlingly similar. This is multi-faceted and overarching theme woven throughout Ben Lawrence’s sensitive and affecting new Australian drama “Hearts and Bones,” an impressive narrative feature debut from the winner of last year’s Sydney Film Festival documentary prize for “Ghosthunter.”

Lawrence’s thoughtful drama also casts an illuminating light on the current hot-button issue of immigrants to Australia and their place in the social fabric, specifically in the Western Sydney suburbs in which it is filmed. The film’s second-place finish in the narrative section of the fest’s audience award (behind Samuel Van Grinsven’s “Sequin in a Blue Room”) suggests it struck a chord with traditionally partisan Aussie audiences, and with proper handling, it’s larger themes will resonate internationally as well.

Just back from his latest overseas assignment, acclaimed war photographer Daniel Fisher (Hugo Weaving) is rudely interrupted by a knock on the door during a moment of intimacy with his loving partner, former ballet dancer Josie Avril (Hayley McElhinney). The visitor is Sebastian Amad (newcomer Andrew Luri, outstanding), an immigrant from South Sudan who works in a commercial laundry, drives a cab at night and is happily married to Anishka (Bolude Watson) with a young child and another on the way.

Amad has tracked down Fisher with a concern: The photographer’s new book and upcoming exhibition will include images from a massacre 15 years before in his South Sudanese town of Maridi, during which the refugee lost his first wife, two sons and a daughter. Amad’s partner knows nothing of his previous life, and he wants to keep it that way. Plus, the pictures, and the memories they stir, logically seem to have a deep effect on him.

As it happens, Dan is already ambivalent about the very existence of the show. Adding to his distress are growing physical symptoms of extreme stress from not only his job (glimpsed in a opening sequence) but Josie’s news that she’s with child — after the couple lost their first to a medical condition shortly after birth. To her surprise and his, Dan agrees to show Amad the photos and consider his request, and from this unlikely bond an even more tenuous but oddly synchronous friendship blossoms.

Lawrence’s father is Ray Lawrence, the revered Australian director who short but influential filmography spans just three titles: “Bliss,” “Lantana” and “Jindabyne.” The younger Lawrence remembers discussing films extensively with dad, and the social realist influences of that trio, plus the work of such favorite filmmakers as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Michael Winterbottom (not to mention the influence of the younger Lawrence’s social worker mother), are what inform his interests and what resonate as the essence of “Hearts and Bones” (the title comes from a reference to Paul Simon’s 1983 album of the same name, about emotion vs. intellect, that was cut from the film).

Working with writer Beatrix Christian, who adapted “Jindabyne” from Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water Close to Home,” Lawrence has fashioned a story that is less about the hidden secrets of the photos — and they are there, both positive and negative — than the mysteries of the friendship between the two men, their relationships with their partners and the way the quartet process the incendiary information. The intuitive selection of the four leads, and their complex, perceptive playing of the material, is a credit to Lawrence’s deft direction of both veteran and non-professional talent.

The racially diverse Western Sydney suburbs are a character in ways not often seen in onscreen depictions of the city, and the harmonious blending of cultures is both a statement of fact and a cautionary warning that it takes patience and tolerance to achieve such a balance — a point driven home deftly as Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” plays over closing images of immigrants in war zones and gruelling transit to what is hoped but never guaranteed to be a better life.

Popular on Variety

Sydney Film Review: 'Hearts and Bones'

Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival (competing), June 16, 2019. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (Australia) A Madman Entertainment (in Australia) release of a Screen Australia presentation, in association with Create NSW, Spectrum Films, Lemac Films, Caravan, of a Night Kitchen production. Producer: Matt Reeder.

Crew: Director: Ben Lawrence. Screenplay: Lawrence, Beatrix Christian. Camera (color): Hugh Miller. Editor: Philip Horn. Music: Rafael May.

With: Hugo Weaving, Andrew Luri, Hayley McElhinney, Bolude Watson.

More Film

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Once Upon a Time

    Leonardo DiCaprio's Earth Alliance Commits $5 Million to Amazon Fires

    Earth Alliance, an environmental initiative backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, has committed $5 million toward the preservation of the Amazon rain forest following an alarming surge in wildfires. After launching Sunday, the organization’s emergency Amazon Forest Fund is working to support local partners and indigenous communities in their efforts to protect the sensitive habitats within the [...]

  • (from left) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)

    Box Office: 'Hobbs & Shaw' Scores $102 Million Debut in China, Nears $600 Million Globally

    Universal’s “Hobbs & Shaw” returned to first place on the international box office charts, thanks to a massive $102 million debut in China. The “Fast & Furious” spinoff, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, collected another $120 million overseas, boosting its foreign tally to $441 million. “Hobbs & Shaw” is nearing the $600 million mark [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    Box Office: 'Angel Has Fallen' Rises to No. 1 With $21 Million Debut

    “Angel Has Fallen,” the third chapter in Lionsgate and Millenium’s action franchise starring Gerard Butler, had a stronger opening weekend than expected, collecting $21.25 million during its first three days of release. Those ticket sales were enough to top domestic box office charts, bumping last weekend’s champ, Universal’s comedy “Good Boys,” to second place. Starring [...]

  • Amanda

    ‘Amanda’ Takes Home Best Int’l Film at 15th Sanfic

    SANTIAGO, Chile    French director Mikhael Hers’ “Amanda” scooped up the Best Int’l Film award Saturday (Aug. 24) at the 15th Santiago Int’l Film Fest (Sanfic), which reported a 20% audience uptick in the past two years and continues to grow its reputation as the most vibrant and prominent film festival in Latin America’s Southern [...]

  • disney d23

    Cruella, Kit Harington and Black Panther's Return: Everything We Learned at D23 Day Two

    Not to be outdone by the avalanche of series orders and casting announcements bolstering the new streaming series Disney Plus, Walt Disney Studios showed off its film wares in a marathon presentation at D23 on Saturday. The Anaheim, Calif. expo brought star power, if perhaps fewer surprises than Friday’s presentation, as fans in princess and [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift'The

    Taylor Swift Downplays Association With Harvey Weinstein

    Taylor Swift’s association with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was among the topics the singer addressed in a revealing new interview with The Guardian. Weinstein held producer credits for the movies “One Chance” and “The Giver,” both of which featured Swift — in the former, a song, and in the latter, a supporting role. She [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content