“Roberto Minervini’s Stop the Pounding Heart belongs to a distinct genus of drama, films that seem to only flirt with familiar narrative constructs in lieu of catching the beauty of the everyday on the fly,” begins Chris Cabin in Slant. “Those familiar with the films of Nicolas Pereda and Lisandro Alonso will no doubt see similarities. And like those directors, Mivervini evokes a quiet naturalness to match the unassuming beauty of his images by utilizing non-professional performers, such as teenagers Sara Carlson and Colby Trichell, who’ve both appeared in the writer-director’s previous features. Their characters, barely altered versions of themselves, are the two most prominent players in a love triangle that emerges in the rural backwoods of Waller, Texas, but Minervini’s focus tilts toward bigger themes of femininity, theology, and domesticity rather than scintillation.”
Sara’s family’s “fundamentalist brand of Christianity calls for an extremely literal interpretation of the Bible and a Mennonite-like rejection of modern technology,” writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. “Sara’s warm but dogmatic mother, Leanne, cannot help but notice her and Colby’s mutual attraction. She has taught her daughter that she should serve one man as a helpmate. Will this potential rebel be able to stop the pounding heart? This is the central conflict of the film, unhurried but richly rewarding.”
In the New York Times, A.O. Scott finds that Minervini’s “respect for the characters and their understanding of the world is utterly without condescension, and his unpretentious humanism makes American cultural, religious and class divisions seem at once profound and irrelevant.”
“The third in a loose trilogy of films the Italian-born director has made in Texas, Minervini’s latest takes an ever more diffuse approach to narrative, playing at times like a more earthbound Malick,” writes Jordan Cronk here in Keyframe.
Update, 3/22: The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Erik Luers gets a few works with Minervini.
Update, 3/29: Minervini captures “the subtle rhythms and routines of his characters’ lives, with an approach to visually beguiling minimalism that have quite rightly drawn comparisons to Bresson and Malick,” writes Christopher Bourne at Twitch.
“There’s something bracing about a Romanian film whose subject matter isn’t the brutal lingering effects of communism on the country’s people, or isn’t filmed in the oppressively dour manner that’s become synonymous with the purveyors of the Romanian New Wave,” writes Kenji Fujishima at Slant. “The usual long takes and wide landscape shots that have been a hallmark of many recent and acclaimed films from the country may be visible throughout The Japanese Dog, but with its open-air settings, simple story, and plainspoken manner, Tudor Cristian Jurgiu’s debut feature feels quaint compared to the gritty, horrific, or blackly comic works of Cristi Puiu, Cristian Mungiu, and Corneliu Porumboiu. Jurgiu’s film, by contrast, may be described as a Yasujiro Ozu drama done in the Romanian style. If only there was more to distinguish it beyond such extra-textual concerns.”
Howard Feinstein: “At first the center of this moving film from Romanian director Jurgiu is the elderly Costache (Victor Rebengiuc, perfect), a tough villager who has just lost his wife and home to devastating floods and now lives alone in various buildings granted by the mayor. Once his estranged son, Ticu (Serban Pavlu), daughter-in-law Hiroko (Kana Hashimoto), and adorable grandson Koji (Toma Hashimoto) arrive unannounced from Japan, the movie turns into a subdued but rich family melodrama that you might call ‘Ozu without tatami mats.’ It is, however, never imitative.”
“Costache remains a husky oak of a man, taciturn and resentful of charity and advice,” writes Steven Mears for Film Comment. “Like De Sica’s Umberto D., his days are occupied with the necessary tasks of survival and the quotidian interactions of a decimated community. So purposeful is he that for the bulk of the film, we see little evidence of ‘acting,’ with no extraneous words or gestures.”
“Like all great satire, Justin Simien’s Dear White People is fueled chiefly by anger—at the everyday racism which endures across the United States, but also at the ignorance and complacency that encourages its persistence even among those who consider the problem more or less solved.” Calum Marsh in the Voice: “In other words, this is a satire about racism among those least inclined to regard themselves as racist: The target is the kind of insidious micro-aggressions that, in the words of the press material, make it difficult to be ‘a black face in a white place.'”
“Of course, the movie, which unfolds almost entirely within its fictional campus setting, is contrived in ways to support its microcosmic, pseudo-satirical vibe,” writes R. Kurt Osenlund at Slant. “Dear White People doesn’t aim to condemn the fools who believe racism in America has ended, but rather open a vast discussion of how the subject of race—and merely identity—in our country has evolved. Bookended by a news-making frat party with a whites-in-blackface theme, and propelled by a narrative concerning Sam’s [a “militant black DJ” played by Tessa Thompson] assault against the school’s ‘randomization of housing’ (the only all-black residence hall, Parker/Armstrong, is on the verge of being diversified), the movie feels monumentally topical.”
“Seeming to draw equal measures of inspiration from Whit Stillman and Spike Lee, but with his own tart, elegant sensibility very much in control, Mr. Simien evokes familiar campus stereotypes only to smash them and rearrange the pieces,” writes A.O. Scott.
At the Dissolve, Noel Murray notes that “Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions have picked the film up for distribution in the United States and Canada. No release date has been announced, but this would seem like a natural fit for an early fall opening, around the time school is back in session.” Earlier: Reviews from Sundance, where Dear White People won a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent.
Update, 3/22: The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Erik Luers gets a few works with Simien.
Update, 3/29: For Christopher Bourne, writing at Twitch, “although Simien sometimes bites off more than he can chew, attempting to juggle more plot complications and issues than he can completely give full justice to, the sharpness and the smartness of his film always shines through.”
“The nondescript phantom of institutional collapse hanging over the Buenos Aires suburb in Benjamín Naishtat’s History of Fear owes a much-noticed debt to Michael Haneke—maybe most specifically 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance,” suggests Steve MacFarlane at Slant. “But the film plays so smoothly as a portrait of an imperiled community, there’s no reason Naishtat couldn’t be discussed in the same breath as Yorgos Lanthimos or Lucrecia Martel. To assume his debut specifically addresses life in the aftermath of Argentina’s junta of the 1970s and ’80s is to let the air out of the filmmaker’s apparent project, a more withholding sketch of what happens across an array of different characters when their normative roles are challenged. That said, viewers looking for emblems of militarism won’t come up empty; the screenplay isolates blurred, buried, or defused traumas and demonstrates how their obscurity can breed insecurity in people over time.”
The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Brian Brooks gathers Naishtat’s thoughts on “how his introduction to international filmmakers at an early age spawned his interest in movies, his country’s economic divide that inspired him to make his first ‘big project,’ and what he has in store next.”
Earlier: Reviews from Berlin.
Update, 3/29: “Naishtat’s preferred tool is intimation, favoring the potential over the kinetic,” writes Steven Mears for Film Comment. “Early on, a police car is stopped by two teenagers who claim to have triggered the security alarm in their house. The point of view lingers excruciatingly in the street until the officer’s return; the sketch provides no immediate payoff but fans the palpable unease. The subjective camerawork, too, invokes a sinister vibe, especially when trailing volatile figures down corridors (calling to mind Gus Van Sant’s Elephant)…. Like last year’s Neighboring Sounds, another mixed-class account of a South American apartment complex responding to a security rise, History of Fear dramatizes the point at which desire for safety sublimates into paranoid acquiescence.”
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