Hearts and Bones is a heart-wrenching tale of two characters united by their shared struggle with war and loss. Daniel is a photographer from Sydney, Australia, who is traumatized by the horrific scenes he captured in war zones around the world, including in South Sudan. Sebastian is a South Sudanese man from the town of Maridi who is troubled by his lived experience in a war zone.
At issue in the center of this film is the power of photographs and photographers to tell other people’s stories. Photographers may capture both the victims and the perpetrators of egregious actions, but they cannot place them into context. Photographs cannot convey the conditions that compelled the actions of the people they portray—particularly if those actions are troubling. Yet these photographs, when displayed in a magazine or an exhibition, allow the audience to pass judgement—good or bad—on the people in the photographs and on their actions.
Hearts and Bones approaches this issue, exploring what happens when the photographer is faced with the unexpected and meets the subjects of his photographs in real life in a city like Sydney, so far removed from the war zone. When Daniel and Sebastian meet, a moral dilemma presents itself, threatening to tear lives apart and destroy families.
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A planned exhibition of Daniel’s work brings the two men together. For Sebastian, the exhibition could open a window into the past, forcing him to revisit a particular incident in Maridi that he would rather forget. For Daniel, the exhibition resurrects the emotional pain of working in war zones, triggering anxiety and panic attacks that are further complicated by his fear of losing his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn child. In facing their own traumatic experiences through a shared context, the two men form an unlikely friendship.
Much like Daniel’s exhibition, Hearts and Bones offers viewers the opportunity to engage with the conflict in South Sudan. However, unlike static photos, the film takes a nuanced approach, allowing the South Sudanese survivors to share their story of resilience.
It is a poignant tale that hooks the viewer just a few minutes in, taking them on an emotional roller-coaster that, in the end, is mitigated by the healing and rebuilding of the film’s resolution.