The Texas Trilogy

TYP-465784-4813437-minervini_g 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:

MINERVINI-PASSAGE-4The 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.

@zx_640@zy_391Low 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.

@zx_640@zy_391-1 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.


The Yusuf Trilogy

Semih Kaplanoglu is another key player in new Turkish cinema. Bal, his latest picture premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, taking home the Golden Bear, the festival’s award of highest regard. Bal is the third and final instalment in Kaplanoglu’s semi-autobiographical trilogy.

The series traces the origins of its main character, Yusuf’s soul. It begins with Yumurta, the tale of middle-aged Yusuf, a poet/intellect who is forced to re examine his values and beliefs, after the death of his mother. Yusuf returns to his long abandoned hometown for his mother’s burial. Ayla, his mother’s caretaker greets him. Ayla explains his mother Zehra’s final wish. She request Yusuf to carry through with a sacrificial rite, Zehra was unable to complete. Yusuf reluctantly sets out with Ayla to the saint’s tomb to perform the task. The couple arrives in the evening, when the shepherd is unable to locate the herd. Forced to linger until dawn for the shepherd and his herd return, they decide to find a place to rest. Yusuf and Ayla find themselves in an obscenely large banquet hall/hotel. The two split up to explore the facilities and cross paths shortly after in one of the wedding banquets. The wedding party is a significant change of pace. For the first time in the picture, both characters are at ease. The following morning they return and follow through with the sacrifice. Neither Yusuf nor Ayla are contented, but they both seem to find comfort in each other’s discomfort. After the ceremony Yusuf must return Ayla to his hometown before returning to Istanbul. The couple part refusing to show any signs of emotion, but are both internally perplexed. Yusuf leaves town and gets in an accident, triggering a life-changing breakdown.

Second in the trilogy is a picture called Süt. Süt follows Yusuf as he enters adulthood, post high school graduation. Yusuf discovers his true passion in poetry, and has a few of his poems published in literary journals. Despite his success, he fails his university entrance exam, and is forced to sell milk in the towns market with his mother Zehra. Their business is quickly diminishing due the abundance of larger supermarkets opening in the town. The picture reflects upon the recent upheaval in Turkey. Kaplanoglu points out especially on the outskirts of towns and in rural areas. Yusuf and his mother quickly begin to drift apart. Zehra finds emancipation while Yusuf finds refuge in tradition.

Bal is the final chapter in the trilogy. Bal documents the early stages of Yusuf’s childhood. Yusuf is a quiet imaginative country boy from a proletariat family, who is terrorized by his classmates due to his stutter. Yusuf shares a strong bond with his father Yakup; a renowned beekeeper that scales large trees to plant hives at high altitudes. Yakup shows Yusuf his trade, taking his son into the forest. The young imaginative boy is drawn to the quiet, mystical landscapes. Yakup leaves to work on a large risky assignment. Days after his fathers departure, Yusuf remains locked up with his mother in the family’s poorly lit shack. Yusuf begins to notice his mother’s low moral, and refuses to speak. Unwilling to accept his father disappearance, Yusuf flees his house on a personal, yet spiritual journey to into the deep depths of the forest.

Kaplanoglu chooses to use absolutely no music, and minimal cuts in his pictures to create a certain sense of realism. Despite the fact that his characters are often distant or reluctant to show emotion, Kaplanoglu’s Yusuf trilogy subtextually delves deep into the souls of not only its characters, but also their nation.

Reha Erdem & Kosmos

Reha has recently become a major player in new Turkish cinema. His career began in 1988 with the release of his first feature film A ay. The film had a limited festival run with minor acclaim. After it’s release Reha spent eleven years struggling to find funding for his next picture. He found himself doing technical work on television series and commercials. In 1999 Reha and his long time friend/producerÖmer Atay finally received funding for their pictureA Run for Money. Reha was discouraged. The film achieved minimal international success, but Omer continued to push Reha. In 2006 his film Times and Winds opened at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was a huge success. Suddenly international distributors were fighting for distribution rights. Erdem demonstrated a significant change of style and pace in 2008 with his film My Only Sunshine. A considerably more difficult film told through the eyes of an abused young woman. The film traveled around the world, introducing a larger audience to Erdem’s work. Reha is now back doing rounds in the festival circuits with his latest picture Kosmos.

Kosmos is the story of a healer who appears in a small artic town. The audience is told virtually nothing about his past. When Kosmos appears, he seeks love. The object of his affection is local girl that seems to share a similar a mating call. He resides in an abandoned warehouse, when offered work as a laborer Kosmos declines. Instead he decides to support himself and a series of less fortunate towns people by stealing from local shops. Kosmos meets a young mute boy. After a brief encounter with Kosmos the boy is cured. Shortly after others line up outside his warehouse looking to be cured of illness and injury. In an attempt to avoid the crowds Kosmos flees his warehouse and runs into the boy he cured. The two play out in a large open field, but after a sudden turn of events things turn sour.

Similar to My Only Sunshine, Kosmos is a very transcendental film. Both leads are faced with a great deal of emotional turmoil. Contrary to the imagery, guns, bombs and sirens can be heard in the distance when both characters are left to battle interpersonal wars. Akin to Michelangelo Antonioni’s late work, the scenery in which Reha’s characters interact is equally as important as the characters themselves. In Kosmos, Erdem creates a surreal sci-fi world that heavily relies on the films sound mix and rhythmic pace. Surroundings that otherwise would look familiar, become foreign when mixed with muffled analog buzzing and bizarre room tones. Like it or not, this is a picture that lingers with it’s viewers.