Cannes invariably offers the opportunity to see some weird and wonderful projects that might not otherwise grab the attention, and Roberto Minervi’s neo-realist documentary style Stop The Pounding Heart is one such film. Following a young girl (Sara Carlson) in a deeply religious territory of Texas, the film seeks to offer a glaringly realistic portrayal of her struggles with lust and religion, when she meets a trainee rodeo rider from a neighbouring family (Colby Trichell) and becomes immediately drawn to him.
This story plays out over the backdrop of Sara’s family life, showing her familial duties, and the tasks required of her on the family goat farm, as well as the fervent religious dedication of her family, and how that impacts on her individuality and the various relationships between characters.
The film is the third in Minervi’s neo-realist trilogy of documentary-type films set in Texas and follows the conventions set by The Passage and Low Tide: aping the documentary style, but with a fictionalised story and characters. It’s not quite The Hills, as there’s very much the sense that these characters, or versions of them, do actually exist, and Minervi is clearly fascinated in their realities, but there simply isn’t enough here to really engage.
Sara wrestles with her personal conflict, but we are never really invited to sympathise with her, because of the cold detachment of the filming techniques, and at times it’s hard to believe the characters, because the actors are clearly not at ease with the more set-up elements of the film, and the dynamics (particularly between Sara and Colby) are thus laboured, and at worst excrutiatingly hard to watch. That of course is partly intended, to portray the social awkwardness of the situation, but the curious result is that everything feels too realistic to convince as real.
The major problem (ignoring Colby’s almost unintelligible voice) is that Minervi hints at some interesting issues – like Sara’s reluctance to embrace Christianity wholly, and her desire to move far away from home and shun marriage as soon as she can – but never explores them, and we’re left wishing he had been more engaged with those aspects, rather than simply holding up a mirror to a community that offers rich ideas, but little in the way of actual entertainment. There’s also a thin criticism of religious institutionalism and the culture of guns in the American south, but again Minervi swerves making a comment, and instead shows his conviction to neo-realism by including a warts and all birth scene that comes pretty much out of nowhere.
It was intriguing yes, and Sara’s story could have made for good viewing, but I can’t help but feel like Louis Theroux should have been wandering this community, probing and looking quizzical in the background to give us all more of an anchor to this strange little world.
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