Sunday, June 21, 2015

DVDebut: In STOP THE POUNDING HEART, Roberto Minervini quietly explores the collision of adolescence, family and faith

Despite its evocative and beautiful title, hearts don't exactly pound in the strange and quiet blending of documentary and narrative called STOP THE POUNDING HEART. Written, directed and co-produced by Italian filmmaker Roberto Minervini, who also did the art direction and acted as camera operator (the cinema-tography was by Diego Romero), the movie is set in Texas and stars local performers who use their actual names and, from what I can gather, do and say the things that might occur in their everyday lives.

And yet: This is not really a documentary because Signore Minervini, shown at left, has written his screen-play in such as way that a "plot" slowly develops, even if, in the end, it is little more that a few incidents wrapped together so that what is going on is mostly shown through the mind and spirit of our prota-gonist, a teenager, Sara (on poster above and below), who is one of twelve siblings in a heavy-duty Christian family that earns its living via goat farming. Sara, shy to the point of barely speaking, comes in contact with a similar-age fellow named Colby.

Colby is played by Colby Trichell (below), while Sara (above) is brought to life by Sara Carlson: All the characters appear to be playing themselves. Colby wants to be a bull rider, and clearly has eyes for Sara. To this end he interests Sara's younger brothers in his "art," which gives them a chance to practice it now and then, while offering Colby the opportunity to see more of this girl.

That's pretty much it, plot-wise, and yet the movie rarely seems slow-moving. As with both narrative and documentary films, details count for much, and we get plenty of them here: about work -- from milking those goats to making cheese and building a secure fence -- and play (wrestling for the older boys, all sorts of mischief for the younger, and for the girls mostly sharing thoughts about love and life and marriage).

Dialog is kept to a minimum, which seems fine since we have a little trouble hearing some of it, in any case. The marvelous ambient sound (which pretty much stands in for any musical score) come through much more strongly that does the dialog. In any case, connections here are made less through speaking than via one character's presence in another character's space.

Visually, the movie is a treat, with cinematography, composition and color all beautifully rendered. There is almost zero exposition. We learn by seeing the family in action, or through what outsider characters learn about this family. For the Carlsons, their Christian faith trumps just about everything else. In another kind of movie, this fact might annoy me, but as shown by Minervini, this absolute faith makes for some troubling times for our heroine.

Parents might very well want to see the film for its "take" on dating, commitment, trust and love. The talk that Sara's mother (beautifully and patiently played by her own mom, LeeAnn Carlson) gives her daughter on these subjects is a very good one, despite its being (like so much else in this family's life) tied too heavily to religion. You can see, as the film meanders along, how Sara struggles to both justify and figure out a woman's place in this patriarchal, religious world. Later, there is one of the more amazing childbirth scenes I've witnessed, seemingly as quick and relatively easy as any on film.

One nighttime scene features a burning cross on a deserted field. No explanation is given, but one immediately is put in mind of the Ku Klux Klan. (The family does appear to have one dark-skinned in-law, but there are certainly not many black faces on view.)  But Minervini never judges; he simply shows and leaves everything else to us. Depending on your viewpoint, you can experience the film as a statement of how religion soothes and keeps us safe, or how it sucks us in by proclaiming "love," while reminding us of our far too prescribed "duty."

While there is little drama -- at least, in the manner that most of us know it (action-lovers might want to stay away) -- there is plenty personal crisis and questioning going on. And the final scene is splendid: simple, beautiful and rich -- without resolution, yet promising that resolution, in some manner, will indeed come.

Stop the Pounding Heart -- a USA/Italy/Belgium co-production released to DVD via Big World Pictures and running 101 minutes -- hits the street this coming Tuesday in a fine DVD transfer. In fact, it very nearly looks as good as a Blu-ray disc. You can also view the movie via iTunes.

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