Roberto Minervini’s “Stop the Pounding Heart” and Contemporary Fine Art Photography

Italian director Roberto Minervini’s documentary-style film seems to parallel fine art photography.

Stop the Pounding Heart” by Italian director Roberto Minervini is a modest, authentic film, veering between neorealism, cinema verite and beautiful private views.

It is a hybrid of sorts: part real-life documentary, part unscripted narrative showing people living their lives. The director filmed for nearly two months using a handheld camera and available light with a basic plot outline but no script.  Instead, Minervini and the few other crew members “embedded” themselves with the Carlson’s, an extended goat farming family living in an insular rural Texas community.

Sara Carlson at the film’s center, brings an open emotionality and resonance that is both subtitle and striking, reminding me of another Sarah—Sarah Polley in Atom Egoyan’s haunting 1997 film “The Sweet Hereafter“.  Remarkably, we watch her carefully explore the world around her, and through this witnessing, we feel along with her.

“Stop the Pounding Heart” might seem to tread on territory recently mined by others, such as the Dardenne brothers (“The Kid with a Bike,“ for example). But while the Belgium filmmakers seem to be more focused on verite, the results appear slightly emotionally and esthetically cold to me: this film is not.

On the other side could be references to the British filmmaker Mike Leigh, who crafts a script as a collaboration between his actors.  But Leigh’s films are clearly narrative driven.

Nearly seventy years earlier, Neorealists such as Vitorio De Sica or Roberto Rossellini used real places in Rome, instead of a sound stage, might be a reference point but their films usually follow a clear narrative, sometimes veering towards melodrama.

Instead, I would compare “Stop the Pounding Heart” to contemporary fine art photographers.

Fine art photograph, Elinor Carucci at Sasha Wolf Gallery, AIPAD
Elinor Carucci, The Woman that I Still Am #2, 13×20″. Sasha Wolf Gallery
Family Fine Art Photography Museum Show, Addison Gallery of American Art, with Steve Giovinco, Catherine Opie, Justine Kurland
Family Fine Art Photography Museum Show, Addison Gallery of American Art, By Steve Giovinco

Some that come to mind, all in different ways, include:

Larry Fink’s Social Graces, Katy Grannan, Sally Mann, Justine Kurland, Elinor Carucci, Laura Letinsky’s earlier self portraits/couples (and other Yale Art School graduates), Catherine Opie, Larry Clark, Chris Verene (even present company included).  Each artist provides a look at an interior world of family (Fink, Mann, Carucci, Verne), couples (Letinsky, Giovinco), tribes (Grannan, Kurland, Opie, Clark) or the self (Carruci, Letinsky, Giovinco).

However, maybe it is the work of American photographer Andrea Modica that seems to parallel “Stop the Pounding Heart” most.  For nearly fifteen years, Modica (also a Yale graduate), photographed a family in a rural town, in this case Upstate New York. Similar to the film was a young woman who became the central focus of the project (called “Treadwell”). Through Barbara and her extended family, Modica created, “…narratives that seem to have no beginning or end, yet present endless scenarios.” (From John .A Benigno’s Masters of Photography blog). Also similar to the film, Modica intimately collaborated with the family, and through this development of trust, documented life with both directness and poetic sensitivity.

These photographers, and Roberto Minervini’s “Stop the Pounding Heart,“ find a composed beauty in the subtle drama of the everyday.  The more specific an artist/filmmaker is, the more general and all incomposing they become.  The families, like the Carlson’s, become stand-ins for the world at large.  Documentation of the real can be powerful.

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