Stop the Pounding Heart
- English spoken
Here’s a sight not often seen: deeply religious parents in the American Deep South, trying to show their kids the path to righteousness through love and determination rather than a Holy pounding. But even under these circumstances, a daughter’s mind can wander.
There’s a lot to be said for watching Stop the Pounding Heart uninformed. The more you know about it, the more the film transforms. Dare I say it only gets better? But, if you wish to form your own opinion about Stop the Pounding Heart, this is where you should stop reading. Just come back once the credits roll.
There. So you saw the film. Did you watch the credits too? If you did, then you probably noticed that director Roberto Minervini also wrote the screenplay, and that the main character has the same last name as the rest of the cast.
So here’s my big question: was this a documentary?
I only started thinking that this could be a real documentary five minutes before the end. The backstory, the setting, and the film’s style obviously were. That whole universe of bull riding and markets like the one where her religious family sells goat products definitely weren’t staged.
Then again, loose, handheld camera work and improvised dialogue are also characteristics of a well-known style in fiction film. A style that works very well when you want to get closer to a family and a community, as you would in a documentary. In this particular case, a religious and conservative rural Texan family, where the kids are home schooled about the virtues of virginal, single matrimony, amongst other things.
That style would have made perfect sense in a fiction film, as would the borrowing of certain documentary story elements serving as a backbone. Plus, Stop the Pounding Heart’s cinematography is just a little too slick for doc. Too often the camera seems to be there just as crucial moments unfold. This film isn’t imperfect enough for a documentary, because a documentary filmmaker can never catch it all. I would think.
And yet, as the credits drew nearer, I wasn’t so sure. Mainly because of what I feel is Stop the Pounding Heart’s main strong point; its lack of drama. If there are conflicts, they rarely explode. The parents may be orthodox but they’re warm and friendly and the macho bull riders are actually nice to women nor do they fight or drink. And though dogmatic, the two amazing monologues held by the mother trying to persuade her wandering daughter of the worthless fun that is dating versus the value that lies in marital commitment are loving rather than threatening. The film’s suspense, in fact, is minimal – something rarely seen in fiction – but ultimately fascinating, because it is exact as well as believable. Almost like a documentary.
Stop the Pounding Heart won the award for Best Documentary at the San Francisco Film Festival, the Leipzig DOK Festival and the David de Donatello Awards (the Italian Oscars). Stop the Pounding Heart was also nominated for the Best Fiction award at the Tous Ecrans Film Festival in Geneva, and the Little Rock Film Festival in Arkansas.
Still with me?
Here’s the story. Director Minervini didn’t have a screenplay, just an idea about a girl who starts questioning her parents’ Christian marriage values. He had known this family for a few years and introduced them to the family of the boy who appears to be the girl’s love interest in the film.
Within this general framework, he allowed the family members to improvise dialogue and scenes. Minervini never watched any of the material during shooting because he wanted to prevent himself from steering his characters towards a dramatic conclusion. They were in charge – he just followed and pressed play.
Documentary? Not quite? Fiction film? Not exactly. Minvervini prefers to call it a ‘hybrid’. One that, he promises, does justice to the people in front of the camera.
Translation: Lauren Murphy