Hearts and Bones – the debut feature film by Australian photographer Ben Lawrence, starring Hugo Weaving as a veteran conflict photojournalist – has received mostly favourable reviews by local and international film critics.
Hearts and Bones follows a famous yet traumatised Sydney-based photographer, Daniel Fisher (Weaving), who has returned home from an assignment to prepare for a retrospective exhibition. A Sudanese refugee, Sebastian Aman (Andrew Luri), hears Fisher promoting the exhibition during a Radio National interview, and meets Fisher to persuade the photographer not to show pictures of a massacre that occurred at his village in Sudan 15 years ago.
An unlikely Intouchables-esque friendship is forged between the younger, downtrodden African refugee and the privileged, stoic old white dude. Based on reviews, the film explores issues of race, class and migration, PTSD and mental health, relationships – and even ethics in photography!
Ben Lawrence, son of one of Australia’s best directors, Raw Lawrence (Lantana), is known as a writer and director, but is also an accomplished photographer – a detail some reviewers attributed to the film’s quality aesthetic .
Hearts and Bones scored an average rating of 89 percent of Rotten Tomatoes and 6.3 on IMBD, and also won five awards on the film festival circuit.
Inside Imaging is yet to view the film, so we had a look at what the professional critics have to say for themselves.
Fairfax film critic, Paul Byrnes, gives the film four stars, describing as a ‘thoughtful and engaging story, driven by exceptional performances’. He was the most responsive to the war photography element to the story:
‘War photography is by its nature exploitative, but in the era before mass communications, it had a noble purpose. Does it still have that purpose? A montage at the end takes us through some of that history, with powerful images of refugees from World War II and before, right through to more recent and chilling images of Africans drowning in the Mediterranean, trying to make it to Europe.’
Byrnes concludes his review by asking a difficult question to war photographers.
‘When we look at a war photograph, it’s a kind of abstraction, through the effect of time. For a moment, we go to them, the photographed, to try to feel what they felt. But what if the photographed person comes to us later, to ask what we did to help them?
News.com.au critic, Wenlei Ma, gives it 3.5 stars, complimenting Lawrence’s photography background for creating beautiful visual compositions in his ‘solid’ debut feature:
‘Lawrence, who co-wrote the screenplay with Beatrix Christian, also works as a photographer and Hearts and Bones is his first narrative feature. Here, he’s asking questions about not the role of the photographer but in what’s captured by the photographer.
There’s an element of judgement in what a photographer chooses to capture, they’re not mere observers, and that’s a debate that could go on time immemorial. Hearts and Bones is less concerned with that than it is about the stories of these two characters and the effect they have on each other’s lives, and in particular one photo that bonds them together.’
Adelaide Review critic, David ‘Mad Dog’ Bradley, rates it 17/20 mostly due to the performances by Weaving and Luri, who has never acted before this role.
Filmink‘s Julian Wood calls the debut feature film an ‘impressive start’, with each character holding plausible motivations:
‘Equally important, the film (which played to acclaim in competition at last year’s Sydney Film Festival) doesn’t just praise or sentimentalise refugees, which gives it a bold moral complexity. Non-professional actor Luri is particularly impressive as Sebastian, a man desperate to start again at all costs. Weaving is generous in the way he works with him and it gives the central relationship a solid mandate from which to examine the film’s complex and delicate issues.’
While Wood praises Lawrence for choosing to boldly avoid sentimentalising refugees, Arts ABC critic Jason Di Rosso is critical of this as ‘inadvertently echoing xenophobic tropes of refugees as duplicitous figures with ulterior motives’:
‘What becomes clear is that the film is less interested in the ethics of representation and more interested in the redemptive power of art. Weaving’s patrician aura – even when he’s roughed up and bleeding by the end – radiates like a halo.
The film’s examination of race and class mellows, ultimately, to embrace a more comforting idea about how art – and artists – can play a positive role in healing. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but the film doesn’t really sell the unexpected, upbeat takeaway.’
Lastly, freelance critic, Anthony Morris, reviewed the film for ScreenHub and settled with four stars:
‘Lawrence and cinematographer Hugh Miller present Sydney as a city divided between Daniel’s airy home and leafy inner-city streets and the cramped night-time world Sebastian lives in. A home renovation project positioned as Sebastian’s chance to lift his family up bridges the divide, but it also becomes a scene of conflict as the men’s friendship struggles to deepen beyond their surface optimism. There’s a sense here that it is possible to move forward, but only after the past is acknowledged and faced down. Sebastian’s renovation may be the most obvious and uplifting symbol of this, but it’s the string of real-life photos of refugees the film ends on that linger. Individuals may be able to find peace, but the processes that tear people apart keep grinding away.’
So, with that, are there any photojournalists out there who have seen the movie and have an opinion? Feel free to drop us a line.
– Hearts and Bones is available as a paid stream all around the internet.