Roberto Minervini is a name that I have been hearing quite a bit recently. Minervini was born in the providence of Ascoli Piceno, Italy, where he lived until early adulthood. Knowing this, it seemed bizarre hearing rumblings about a young Italian filmmaker who moved to Texas & directed an enormously powerful trilogy focused on American culture. After viewing the films, I did a little research on Minervini. I discovered that he landed an office job in the States & immigrated to the New York City at the beginning of the millennium. Shortly after Minervini fell victim to the events of September 11th & lost his job. Unable to find work in America, he left the States to teach in the Philippines. Years later he discovered his mother in law had been diagnosed with cancer. Minervini decided to leave Asia & provide care for his mother in law that resided in Northern Texas. This little bit of information helped put the Trilogy into perspective:
The Passage (2011): Ana, a middle-aged Hispanic woman is diagnosed with terminal cancer & told she has weeks to live. Assumingly a recent immigrant to the United States, Ana lives in alone, without family in a border town. In an act of desperation, a co-worker refers her to a spiritual healer. Jack, a recently released ex-con has little to his name. With couple of dollars & an early 1980’s champagne colored Ford Crown Victoria, he wonders around town begging for change. The harsh reality of Ana’s diagnosis has led her down a self-destructive path. She picks up smoking & shovels giant tubs of ice cream into her shopping cart at a local grocery store. Jack discovers Ana in tears, knelt down under her cart in the frozen food section. He consoles her & talks her into buying him a 6 pack of beer. Ana offers Jack financial reward to drive her to the Northern side of the State & the duo set off on a journey to visit the spiritual healer. On their way they run into Harold: a middle-aged newspaper journalist, hitchhiking his way to an art exhibit in the town of Marfa. Harold has decided to pursue his passion in art and rented a space to display his installation piece. Harold joins the gang & they continue heading north. What could’ve been a taboo & lifeless drama, takes a 180°, becoming a very relevant piece on western culture. The film is a masterfully executed character study. Minervini has a great deal of compassion for his characters & the actors seem as if their trust & care for one another goes beyond what is portrayed on screen.
Low Tide (2012): From the first frame tracking it’s unnamed adolescent lead played by Daniel Blanchard, the camera almost never leaves his side. Daniel’s character has the imagination & mannerisms of a 12 year old, but leads an abnormally lonely existence. He collects cans with a middle aged man in his low income neighborhood, quietly watches the local bull riders from the distance & carefully examines the wildlife around the creek. His single mother is rarely found at home. She has a substance abuse problem & the majority of time they spend on screen together is at her work in a nursing home. The young boy runs errands for his mother at the home. Their dialogue amongst one another is minimal & mechanical. Almost all of the mother’s words to her son are in the form of a question: “Is there any food?” “Can you turn the dryer on?” “Could you get me a beer?” The boy longs for love and acceptance, but struggles to uncover either in his existence. Low Tide is an intimate account of a young boy coping with his self-destructive mother. The picture’s tension is nearly entirely conveyed without words & leans on its non-actor lead to convey this. The combination of Minervini’s naturalistic camera work, the outstanding editing & Daniel Blanchard’s tremendously convincing performance certainly sell the film.
Stop The Pounding Heart (2013): Home schooled by their devout Christian parents, Sara & her 11 siblings spend the bulk of their time in their residence (the family’s goat farm). The adolescents are raised with strict moral guidance from the Scriptures. Sunday mornings are spent at church & the rest of their weekend is consumed with the farmers market. The family sells homemade goat cheese from their booth. Colby, a 14-year-old bull rider lives near the market. On a walk with her younger brothers, Sara passes Colby’s ranch. Colby is quick to share his passion and offers Sara’s brother bull riding lessons. In the pen Colby rides a manic fully grown bull, when thrown off he walks to the fence where Sara is observing. Looking in each other’s general direction they exchange words, avoiding eye contact for longer than a fractions of a second. The suggestion is subtle enough to go unnoticed, but is heavily enforced in the scenes that follow. Sara’s mother explains: in their faith women must be subservient to their biological fathers until giving their hearts up in marriage. At this point it is the woman’s responsibility to serve their husband. She identifies that dating can lead to temporary pleasure, however it can also lead to heartbreak. It’s Sara’s responsibility as a Christian to give up her heart to a singular individual. As Sara returns to the world outside of her family’s farm, her battle with temptation persists. Sara digs deep within & is forced to ask herself important questions regarding her faith.
Minervini demonstrates extraordinary empathy for his subjects. His ongoing exploration of small town personal struggle continues, however his approach is very different. Following his subjects for 2 months without a screenplay, Roberto managed to place them in real life situations he felt would help shape his vision. In doing so, he has captured some incredibly powerful observations with dialogue an accomplished writer would envy. This further compliments his fine tuned naturalistic style. Stop The Pounding Heart is packed with astonishing real world detail. The picture becomes even more gratifying upon multiple viewings.
The Trilogy is unlike anything I have seen in American cinema. Minervini’s attraction tends to be in the unspoken. He presents his subjects with tremendous care. His casting choices stem from the themes he desires to explore. The films unfold in an almost self-generated manner, crafting his unique hyper realistic style. Roberto Minervini’s upcoming feature “The Other Side” documents Colby Trichell’s extended family that lives in Northern Louisiana. The film will be premiering in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival this May.