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Young Hearts: Berlin Film Review

Two boys play in the water in the film Young Hearts, now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival.

With new film Young Hearts, Anthony Schatteman brings the joys and pains of first love to the Berlin Film Festival.

Love is not for the weak of heart, especially your first love. Without any reference or guidance on what to do or what to say or how to act, falling in love for the very first time is just as scary as it is beautiful. The feeling of butterflies in your stomach is just as frequent as the feeling of nerve-like nausea and yet, for some wild reason, we all pine for the chance to stomach the euphoric feeling that love brings. Anthony Schatteman’s new feature premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, Young Hearts (Junge Herzen), beautifully encapsulates the feelings of having your first love in its entirety.  

Young Hearts opens on 14-year-old Elias (Lou Goossens) who is living a normal life. He has plenty of friends, even a girlfriend called Valerie (Saar Rogiers). His father (Geert Van Rampelberg) is a bit obsessed with his career as a musician but his mother (Emilie De Roo) is very present in a way that almost makes up for it. He loves to spend time with his recently widowed grandfather (Dirk van Dijck) and help out on his farm with daily tasks. He is in a solid routine for a young boy. When a new family moves into the house across from his, however, Elias has no idea how his world is about to change. Enter Alexander (Marius De Saeger), another 14-year-old boy who has just moved with his father and younger sister from Brussels who seems to emanate the self-assurance and strong sense of identity that Elias lacks. 

Elias is immediately drawn to Alexander’s natural charm and a true chemistry develops between them right away. Being 14, the boys are surrounded by the excitement around relationships and the ever-so-mysterious love. During a conversation about first loves, Alexander reveals he was in love before moving in with a boy named Arthur and Elias reveals even though he is dating Valerie, he has never been in love before. As their bond develops the two boys can no longer deny their feelings for one another, but Elias fears his friends and family’s reaction to the news that he is in love with a boy.

A boy looks out of the window in the film Young Hearts, now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival.
A still from Young Hearts, now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. (© Thomas Nolf / Berlinale)

Young Hearts is a stunning coming-of-age, queer love story about learning to love fearlessly and learning to accept yourself unconditionally. The film stands as an emotional odyssey following Elias coming to terms with his sexuality as he discovers himself in a way he never has before. In Alexander, he sees qualities that he admires and understands the type of person he wants so badly to be able to be, but unfortunately feels held back by the fear of whether others will accept him or not. 

Elias feels so deeply all the emotions we experience with first love from a giddiness that feels contagious to insecurity that will leap from the screen and sting in your chest. Lou Goossens is a revelation in this breakout performance. He can portray virtually every emotion with such a visceral conviction he makes your heart physically hurt for him. He plays Elias’s full arch of emotions and makes the character feel so tangibly real and lived in that in the depths of the film you just want to give him a hug. The pain that Elias feels when he doesn’t know how to love Alexander and tell his friends and family who he really is will break your heart. You see in his eyes all the stress of his secrets bubbling up on the inside, making him ready to explode at any moment.  

Alexander, in so many ways, acts as Elias’s foil. He is confident and self-assured. He is the epitome of ease, the kind of kid who never had to question who he was but always just was who he was. He feels no shame for his sexuality and his biggest struggle throughout the film is wondering why Elias cannot love him no matter who is watching. Marius De Saeger brings a level of grace to this role that is astounding for someone so young. It’s really the performance of these two boys that sells the story with the emotional gravity it has. 

The heart of the story, however, has to go to the relationship between Elias and his grandfather, Fred. Elias feels he can’t tell anyone what is going on with Alexander because he doesn’t know how they will react. Without needing to ask questions or know the depths of the situation Fred, in the emotional climax of the film, tells Elias that feeling your feelings and permitting yourself to be happy can never lead you astray. Fred serves as a perfect person to give perspective on the matter of love as he has just lost the love of his life and understands how fleeting our time on earth is and how powerful love can be. 

While a love story, Young Hearts really is a story about coming into yourself as a young person and the decisions you have to make in the quest to find who you are. It’s a light and sensitive look at how we find ourselves through love and gives hope to those who want to tell the people they love who they are and that they can be accepted. Fear and the fear of rejection in all forms holds so many people back from being happy. This film is about combatting that fear in order to bask in the joy of being known. 

Young Hearts premiered at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. Read our Berlin Film Festival reviews and our list of 20 films to watch at the Berlin Film Festival!

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