They say a picture is worth a 1000 words but it rarely tells the whole story.
Sometimes, what you see obscures the truth.
Australian film Hearts and Bones, which was originally slated for a cinema release in April after its festival run in 2019, has now gone direct to digital release this week.
Starring Hugo Weaving and directed by Ben Lawrence (son of Lantana director Ray Lawrence), the sombre and empathetic drama is a complex story about memory, trauma and family.
Dan Fisher (Weaving) is an acclaimed war photographer having documented atrocities and tragedy all over the world, especially conflict-torn places such as South Sudan and Iraq. One government minister, the one for “border protection”, decries his work as “misery porn”.
Home in Sydney to ready an exhibition of his work, he’s approached by Sebastian (Andrew Luri), a South Sudanese taxi driver who heard Dan talking on the radio about his work.
Sebastian tracks down Dan and invites him to photograph a choir to which he belongs, a group of men from war-torn countries including Guinea, Congo, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. But through their shared trauma, their harmonised voices reveal hope.
Sebastian is a man of hope and he wants to buy a rundown house with flea-infested carpet. His wife Anishka (Bolude Watson) doesn’t understand his fixation with owning this small plot of suburban land, but for him, land equals security.
At first, Dan is resistant – he photographs people in the worst moments of their lives, not suburban choirs. But Sebastian is persistent and some significant impending changes in Dan’s life with partner Josie (Hayley McElhinney) persuade him to change his mind.
Sebastian asks Dan to not exhibit photos from his South Sudanese village, the place of a horrendous massacre 15 years earlier and where Sebastian’s whole family died. Dan isn’t sure what to do.
Sebastian insists that his people, his past, shouldn’t be subject to the judgement of people who weren’t there.
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 judgment 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.
This film is a character study – or two character studies as it were – but it’s also about the experience of those who’ve fled their homes in search of something more hopeful. Through the specificity of the story it seeks to represent an overlooked collective.
Sebastian and his wife both work two menial jobs each and while there’s little overt forms of discrimination against them in the film, the institutional prejudice against refugees in this country lurks in the background.
Sebastian is a fully realised character who is loving and scared and regretful and hopeful. He has a temper and a past. And Luri gives a wonderfully nuanced performance that really shades Sebastian’s moral quandaries.
On another note about the film’s craft, Lawrence’s photography background plays into his visual compositions which are beautiful to look at – there’s a warmth to his images that really highlights the burgeoning friendship between Sebastian and Dan.
Hearts and Bones is a solid debut feature that tries to look at the hardships endured by those seeking refuge and the privilege of those who feel they can judge them.
Hearts and Bones is available now for digital purchase and for digital rental on June 3
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