August 15, 2019
Dan Fisher (Hugo Weaving), a lauded war photographer nestled in the bustle of the Western Sydney suburbs, comes across a South Sundanese refugee (Andrew Luri). Unexpectedly drawn together and forming a close friendship, the two divergent men become entangled in emotional, political and moral complications. Each finds their beliefs questioned, as does the audience.
Led by a brilliant and understated Hugo Weaving, Hearts and Bones is the considered debut feature narrative film by Ben Lawrence (Ghosthunter).
Fisher, esteemed for his work and married to former ballet dancer Josie (Hayley McElhinney) receives an unexpected door knock from cab driver Sebastian Amad, insisting the photographer hear what he’s got to say.
Sebastian is concerned that Fisher’s forthcoming exhibition and book of collected works will feature images of a slaughter he was involved in 15 years ago in his South Sudanese village. A massacre where Sebastian (who is expecting a child) lost his first wife and three children. His partner knows nothing of his former life. He doesn’t want these in the public and asks Dan to alter the plans.
Fisher, still reeling from his own war experiences, is wary but sensitive to the man’s concerns. He agrees to let Sebastian into his home, and eventually, his life.
Dan and Sebastian become chums, unexpectedly finding much alike. Dan learns intimate details of the Sudanese migrant’s life, his culture, beliefs and cuisine. He befriends Sebastian’s wife Anishka (Bolude Watson), and their friends in the community. Dan is intrigued by local efforts to develop a choir.
Bus as their kinship grows and Dan looks deeper into the meaning of the photos, he finds himself dealing with complexities surrounding Sebastian’s past actions; concerns which threaten to unravel his burgeoning friendship, his thoughts on Sebastian, and the very bedrock of what he believes right or wrong. Unfortunately, there is a lot more to the photos than Sebastian made out.
Should Dan tell anyone about his discovery? Can he tell his wife, and cancel his own exhibition? What is the cost of defying his friend and publishing the photos?
All of this happens while Dan is navigating his own stressed relationship with his partner. Worsening the situation, Josie springs the unexpected news on Dan that she’s expecting.
Further complicating matters, Dan’s war-related anxiety is deteriorating. Josie finds out about the photos for herself and becomes wedged in the conflict due to her friendship with Sebastian’s wife – who is unaware of all of this and also pregnant.
Weaving is sterling, guiding fresh face Andrew Luri, yet leading the film with careful and honed sensitivity as he unravels into infinite states.
With multiple concerns arising from each confrontation, the narrative of Hearts and Bones provides many thought starters. Troubling and complex questions are posed through a character (a refugee) and setting (the outer Sydney suburbs) scarcely examined in Australian films. The location is key. One of the intentions Lawrence had in mind with the film, was to capture Sydney in 2019 in an honest way.
Coming from documentary roots, the street photography captured by cinematographer Hugh Miller (Sherpa, Ghosthunter, 2040) and Lawrence, who is the son of celebrated Australian director Ray Lawrence (Bliss, Jindabyne, Lantana) imbues the story with the desired familiarity and sensitivity. This is magnified by the prominent suburbia, a backdrop and a character itself, throughout the film.
Hearts and Bones is an involving and tightly wound human drama which hits close to home.