'The Heart' ('Hjartat'): Film Review | Rotterdam 2018

The Heart Still 1 - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Rotterdam International Film Festival
A well-played if somewhat conventional story of modern love.

Swedish actress-director Fanni Metelius ('Force Majeure') screened her debut feature in Rotterdam’s Bright Future section.

Love is not necessarily all you need in The Heart, a modern-day Swedish romance about a couple that has a hard time staying together despite their mutual affection. Written and directed by and starring Fanni Metelius (Force Majeure), who plays an art student trying to make it with her musician beau (newcomer Ahmed Berhan), this well-acted two-hander doesn’t feel like anything new under the sun, although it has a nice level of emotional honesty and never shies away from the touchier sides of relationships. After premiering in Rotterdam’s Bright Future section, it could find theatrical distribution in Scandinavian territories and VOD action in Europe and elsewhere.

Mika (Metelius) is a fun-loving photographer and party girl who seems to own Sweden’s largest collection of crop tops. Tesfay (Berhan) is a more stoic, serious-minded composer who spends way too much time on his Xbox. They’re clearly opposites and thus naturally attracted to each other. Also, she’s white and he’s black, although the subject of race never comes up in the movie.

Like most couples, they have their ups and downs but seem to be genuinely in love. Yet when Mika decides to move in with Tesfay in Stockholm, things begin to slowly unravel: Tesfay turns into a bona fide couch potato, while Mika seems to miss the more freewheeling life she lead as a single woman. They also don’t have much sex, which becomes a major issue that will eventually drive a wedge between them.

Again, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, even if Metelius offers up a few surprises in the third act and avoids a predictably happy ending. But what makes The Heart slightly better than your average love story is the way it realistically depicts how a couple can come apart despite good intentions on both sides.

Mika and Tesfay seem to want the best for each other, and they definitely have plenty of fun at times. Yet it’s not enough to make things work: the two have incompatible lifestyles and goals — throughout the course of the film, Mika matures and winds up taking her life into her own hands — and may ultimately be better off going their separate ways.

Metelius does a good job with her cast, coaxing strong performances out of Berhan and the raucous band of ladies that Mika parties with when things get rough. Indeed, The Heart has a fair amount — if not too many — club scenes, with photography director Maja Dennhag capturing them in candy-colored compositions backed by an array of hip-hop beats. It feels a bit overindulgent, and just because characters are having fun onscreen it doesn’t mean it’s always fun to sit through. At the same time, the film clearly shows that all the partying in the world can never compensate for a meaningful, long-lasting relationship, however difficult that is to maintain.

Venue: Rotterdam Film Festival (Bright Future)
Production company: Garage Film International
Cast: Fanni Metelius, Ahmed Berhan, Daniella Mir, Leona Axelsen, Suzanne Reuter, Claes Hartelius
Director-screenwriter: Fanni Metelius
Producers: Mimmi Spang, Rebecka Lafrenz
Director of photography: Maja Dennhag
Production designer: Julia Tegstrom
Costume designer: Linn Eklund
Editor: Fanni Metelius
Composers: Katharina Nuttall, Linus Andersson
Sales: M-Appeal

In Swedish
100 minutes