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Film Review 

REVIEW: Stop the Pounding Heart (Roberto Minervini – 2014) [Sydney Film Festival]


Roberto Minervini’s Stop the Pounding Heart is another in a raft of manipulatively indefinable documentaries, that wants to observe reality, until it doesn’t quite do what you need it to. Its subjects are Sara and Colby, teen Texans living out rural lives. Sara’s Christian family run a goat dairy farm and she and her team of siblings are home-schooled  Across the county Colby is from a rodeo riding, gun toting southern American descendants of cowboys. Minervini uses this setting to contemplate and manipulate a kind of out of time suffrage of Sara, not satisfied with her family’s biblical teachings and conversely for Colby the subtle omnipresence of faith in a far less extreme version of Christianity.

Minervini’s technique here is to embed the film in the lives of the actors while crafting certain scenes to manipulate the outcome; one might call this cinematic coercion. The camera is a ghostly character trailing Sara (and to a lesser extent Colby) navigating their formative adolescent moments.


Minervini’s lens is obsessed with Sara. It gets down and dirty with her labour for the farm. She’s feeding, milking and tending to the family’s goat herd for her father and corralling her family and playing assistant to her mother. Minervini also observes Sara’s mother and father forming their curriculum from the bible. It’s a rare moment that her day’s idle. In those rare intimate scenes alone in her room staring out the window, the camera gets close enough to register her longing. There’s a flood of thoughts and emotions pouring out of her eyes. She’s an inquisitive subject that conveys a strikingly measured strength in the face of the Christian teachings and fables that don’t satisfy her curiosity.

Minervini views Colby as a rodeo obsessed kid, putting the work in training to eventually be a professional rider. Colby’s family is a vastly more progressive bunch. Tattoos, partying and the occasional tipple are the reward for hard work and the celebration for surviving those bucking bulls relatively unscathed. The ‘fear of God’ is definitely present, but it’s taught from the perspective of those recovering from unchained addictive behaviours that originate from notoriety.

The crucial issue that I have with Minervini’s film is that it’s manipulative in its approach. You’re never quite sure what scenes are organic and what scenes have been retooled for dramatic effect. On the one hand We (the audience and Sara) observe a birth that her mother’s acting as midwife. Yet on the flip side there’s a scene where Sara and her four sisters adorn themselves in of kind Victorian garb, think The Picnic at Hanging Rock, and go on an outing to discuss their future and reflect on their lessons.

Stop the Pounding Heart is an infuriating beast. One can’t be entirely sure whether Minervini is essaying gender and faith in modern American society, or staging it.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Directed by: Roberto Minervini

Written by:Roberto Minervini

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