Stop the Pounding Heart, 2013.
Directed by Roberto Minervini.
Starring Sara Carlson and Colby Trichell.
A teenage girl deals with a crisis of conscience in gun-toting rural Texas.
After The Passage and Low Tide, Italian filmmaker Roberto Minervini continues to focus his gaze on the people of rural Texas. Avoiding the large urban areas, Minervini investigates the lives of small-town dwellers set apart from mainstream American life. Stop the Pounding Heart completes this trilogy.
The story is told from Sara’s viewpoint. Sara (Sara Carlson) is one of twelve children in the Carlson family. Her parents are Christian fundamentalists who raise goats and home-school their children to protect them from the evils and lies of state school. The girls learn subservience to men from their mother, one of the sisters explaining: “if Adam hadn’t needed a helper we wouldn’t be here”. There are plenty of moments when we see Sara serving her parents, milking goats, fixing fence posts and tutoring her younger siblings. But rather than viewing this girl with pity or derision, we have a sense that Sara is part of the weave in the fabric of a society that has changed little over the centuries. This strong link to the past is beautifully depicted in a picnic scene, with just the sisters partaking in an alfresco meal whilst dressed in what appear to be medieval dresses. This scene is juxtaposed with watching Sara learning to shoot. Perhaps one of the most shocking images is that of a heavily pregnant woman taking her chances on the makeshift firing range.
Sara’s situation is compared and contrasted with that of Colby (Colby Trichell), a scrawny but tenacious rodeo bull rider. Colby rides at the local rodeos, enjoys a few beers and wrestling fights with his mates. However, their two lives are seen in parallel: they are both practising Christians and their lives are inextricably bound to their community and their landscape. There is a mutual attraction between the two young characters, but it is more a mutual sympathy and curiosity than anything overtly sexual. As Sara goes through the motions of acting the dutiful daughter, we see the strain this puts on her. She’s drawn to a different kind of life, but what this entails and how to go about it confuse her. Her desires pull her towards rebellion but her upbringing pull her back to the family heart.
As with his previous two films, Minervini takes a documentary approach, using real people rather than actors, using a small crew, natural lighting and just one take per scene. But this is a story with a script. Whilst these people open up their homes and private lives to Minervini, they are not exactly playing themselves. What the director manages to pull off with his films is a way of depicting lives very different from our own, lives that many will mock or shun, but he does so with such respect and delicacy that in turn the audience views these characters with greater regard and sympathy. These are not throwbacks to another time and place, but living, breathing parts of a multifaceted and complex society.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★
Jo Ann Titmarsh