A sweet, gentle exploration of adolescent love between a young Belgian couple wins the Grand Prix in Berlin’s Generation 14plus 

Kind Hearts

Source: Olivia Rochette & Gerard-Jan Claes

‘Kind Hearts’

Dirs/scrs: Olivia Rochette, Gerard-Jan Claes. Belgium. 2022. 87 mins.

Tinged with nostalgia and malaise, Olivia Rochette and Gerard-Jan Claes’ Kind Hearts uses documentary and staged conversations between a young couple in Brussels to create a simple narrative about the gentle and lasting significance of first love. When high school ends, the couple is thrown off kilter – with so many choices about what to do, where and how to live their suddenly adult lives, their comfortable relationship comes into question. Exploring the ups and downs of young love with a surprising level of frankness, Kind Hearts is a sweet, reflective picture of two adolescents learning to yield as they yearn.

 Kind Hearts is more interested in noticing than making any kind of commentary

This is their fifth feature collaboration together, and Rochette and Claes’ partnership extends beyond filmmaking to co-founding the online film magazine, Sabzian, and film distribution and VOD platform, Avila, which holds worldwide distribution rights for Kind Hearts as well as for their four previous films. Following its premiere in Berlin, where it won the Grand Prix for best film in Generation 14plus, future festival play for Kind Hearts seems likely - positive word of mouth is sure to build as audiences discover its Rohmer-esque charms.

Having found their cast in a search at a Belgian high school, Rochette and Claes create a compassionate portrait of young love by having their leads Billie (Billie Meeussen) and Lucas (Lucas Roefmans) re-enact key conversations from their real-life relationship. Where they will live and study, will stay together as their paths diverge? Meeting at cafes, lounging in the park, sitting in their homes and messaging on their phones and laptops, they wade through the emotional trajectory of adolescence as if it were an endless summer. Rain falling on Billie’s loft room window indicates, however, that it is not.

The film’s slow and steady pace allows the beats of their uncertainty to breathe, but it is never dull, breezing by at 87 minutes. Everything in the production is pared back so that its naturalism becomes its greatest strength. Rochette’s static, mid shots leave space for aimlessness but even the most seemingly insignificant interactions have meaning: Billie moves restlessly across the room to change her top, if only she could break up with Lucas so easily. Lennert de Taeye and Nina de Vroome keep sound as naturalistic as possible throughout and the only music in the film is diegetic – Lucas is a DJ and produces tracks for his friend and aspiring singer, Charlotte. His mix of samples and beats clash pleasingly with Charlotte’s melodic tone, offering a chaotic counterview to Billie’s more structured and studious approach to her burgeoning adult life.

The blend of documentary and staged sequences is seamless throughout; it feels far more like a directed improvisation than an observational study. The gendered conversations could have come straight out of Rohmer’s Boyfriends And Girlfriends – and when Billie takes a girlfriend vintage shopping, it could even be 1987. In both themes and aesthetic, the film is timeless, and yet it is undeniably contemporary for the way in which it captures both the apathy and energy of a generation caught up in a perfect storm of western cultural influence, screen technology and a pandemic. The film’s serene tonal quality would make it a fitting companion piece to last year’s Friends and Strangers (the feature debut from Australian James Vaughan), though Kind Hearts is more interested in noticing than making any kind of commentary.

Production companies: Accatone Films, Canvas

Worldwide distribution: Avila Films, contact@avilafilm.be

Producers: Rasmus Van Heddenghem, Ruben Desiere

Cinematography: Olivia Rochette

Editing: Dieter Diependaele

Main cast: Billie Meeussen, Lucas Roefmans, Romane Van Damme, Charlotte Meyntjens, Rana Hamzaoui, Gaspard Renier, Victoria De Man