From June 10th-12th, TIFF Bell Lightbox will play host to The Other Side: The Films of Roberto Minervini; a mini-retrospective of the titular director, who in only a few short years has captivated audiences around the world with his slice-of-life narratives set in the American South. Minervini will be on hand to introduce each of his works, making for a rare audience opportunity to engage with a director who is only growing more prominent with each passing film. The trademarks of Minervini’s films include casts of mainly non-professional actors often playing extensions of themselves, utilizing a small crew throughout production, and using a minimal amount of takes for each sequence captured. His films straddle the line between documentary and fiction; telling stories embedded in realism and accentuated with minimalist aesthetics, captured from within the communities featured and using the medium to tell stories from within them.
Minervini’s first three features, The Passage, Low Tide, and Stop the Pounding Heart form his ‘Texas Trilogy'; set within the confines of the American South and based within narratives of social and economic hardships, chronicling the lives of those often overlooked on-screen. The trilogy of films has been described as “quietly gripping and subtly neo-realistic”, a testament to the Italian-born director’s efforts to transplant one of the most widely infamous subgenres in cinematic history into a territory with infinite stories to tell.
The Passage, released in 2011, is a road trip odyssey between a dying woman, a recently paroled convict, and a middle-aged artist. Brought together purely by fate, they share a common thread of desperation, and through the journey taken together are they able to find deeper meaning in their lives. The rough visual nature of the film is difficult to overcome, but worth seeing to see how Minervini started out, and to see the techniques he would hone in his later films be applied in an early context.
Low Tide takes on a more isolated approach – focusing squarely on the dire life of a lonely young boy in rural Texas, consistently ignored by his mother and relegated to exploring the countryside around him. A lack of direct exposition in the story beckons the viewer to identify with the film’s adolescent protagonist, and view the badlands through his gaze, in numerous tableaus. The naturalism at hand comes through Minervini’s lack of intervention, which, in some alarming sequences becomes to much to handle; though in the subdued moments outweigh these by a wide degree.
Stop The Pounding Heart, Minervini’s first film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, is an offshoot of The Passage, in that it centers around the family of goat farmers briefly appearing in the middle of that film. Centering around another child, this time a young girl living with her eleven siblings on the farm, home-schooled and deeply religious, until she comes across an older boy that challenges her way of thinking. The story encapsulates many themes evocative of the American mentality today; faith, background, prescribed gender roles, and the importance of one’s own family.
His latest feature, The Other Side, which had its North American premiere at TIFF in 2015, opens the series on Friday, and is not to be missed. A sense of despair is foregrounded across the film, in its portrayal of the West Monroe area of Louisiana – home to crystal meth addicts with rapidly declining lifespans. An innate sense of beauty, albeit decrepit, is contained within Minervini’s imagery, that eventually builds towards a conclusion equal parts staggering and horrifiying.
In addition to these, Minervini will introduce his Carte Blanche pick for the series, Brazilian director Ozualdo R. Candeidas’ rarely screened and hard-to-find documentary The Margin (1967). Chronicling the lives of people living on the outskirts of the Tietê river in São Paulo, it’s not hard to see the major influence it has had on Minervini’s work, especially the way it blends staged moments with reality.
The Other Side: The Films of Roberto Minervini begins June 10th and runs until June 12th. Tickets can be purchased online here.