Authenticity drives low-key 'Stop the Pounding Heart'

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Authenticity is the warm blood that pumps through "Stop the Pounding Heart," a low key but mesmerizing look at adolescent awakening in a fundamentalist family.

Writer-director Roberto Minervini isn't offering up a documentary, per se, but the film does have a documentary feel and tone, with non-actors playing and mostly being themselves. His camera primarily follows 14-year-old Sara Carlson, one of 12 children in a home-schooled, Christian family in rural Texas where breakfast comes with Bible study and everyone pitches in on the family goat farm.

The film concentrates on the pious Carlsons but includes their neighbors, the Trichells, also Christians, but more of the tattooed, beer-guzzling, rodeo variety. This being Texas, both families are gun enthusiasts and one of the film's more enduring images is of a heavily pregnant Trichell blasting happily away at targets.

The two families intersect when Sara and a couple of younger brothers meet teen Colby Trichell, an aspiring bull rider, in a muddy field one day. Nothing like a romance develops — Colby and Sara talk awkwardly and never even touch — but it's clear that just encountering a male her age from outside her insular family both inspires and upsets Sara.

In many ways Sara is defenseless when it comes to the outside world. Her life is mostly spent feeding and milking goats, doing farm chores, accompanying her mother to farmers markets to sell cheese, milk and yogurt, and praying. She's also, at 14, charged with teaching her younger brothers how to spell and read. As far as history goes — well, it's all there in the Bible.

One thing that's stressed in the Carlson family is that women are put on earth to serve men. As a result, Sara's sisters all see themselves settling down and serving a husband one day. But not Sara. She tells them she wants to live in Texas, but does not want to get married. In the Carlson family this seems tantamount to announcing plans to shack up with Satan one day, and it's the first hint of a crack in Sara's stifling lifestyle.

Sara's father isn't seen all that much in the film, although he does yell at her for not being good enough at planting poles for a wire fence. Yeesh, she's a 14-year-old girl. Give the kid a break.

But that's the point — as soulful and kind and sweet as Sara is, there are no apparent breaks in store for her. When something inside realizes that, she begins crying for no clear reason. Her mother patiently explains the trials of being a good Christian woman to the girl, praying to God to "stop the pounding heart" that troubles her daughter.

"Stop the Pounding Heart" is a telling portrait of American rural life, one that mixes fanaticism and good-old-boyism with the universal awkward angst of growing up. One thing's for sure — when it's over you hope dearly that Sara's heart keeps on pounding.

tlong@detroitnews.com

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'Stop the Pounding Heart'

GRADE: B+

Not rated

Running time: 98 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre