Dir.: Jonathan Cenzual Burley; Cast: Miguel Martin, Alfonso Mendiguchia, Juan Luis Sara, Maribel Iglesias; Spain 2016, 98 min.
The harsh rural landscape of Central Spain is the backdrop to this story about what money (the lack of it and the lack of need for it) can do to rather ordinary men. This is not so much about greed, but about what happens when the pressure to be materially successful in life collides with the traditional values of a life outside modern society.
Anselmo (Martin) is a shepherd, who lives in harmony with nature and his dog Pillo in a rundown cottage in the middle of nowhere. He, and his very modest lifestyle, are introduced in the first ten minutes; apart from a few words to Pillo, the sequence is just an introduction to the landscape, which will dominate proceedings: As in his debut The Soul of Flies, Burley is his own DoP, his pristine camerawork captures the beauty a natural workd that is never sentimentalised. Anselmo has no television, his leisure time is spent having a glass of wine in the local bodega and visits to the library in the nearby city of Salamanca (?) where he meets the librarian Concha (Iglesias), who treats him with gentle respect: most people believe he is a simpleton for eschewing a material existence. The tranquillity is undisturbed, until a developer offers Anselmo a handsome amount for his land. Anselmo refuses, he sees no need to change his modest, but meaningful life. Enter Julian (Mendiguchia), the owner of the local slaughterhouse, and Paco (Sara), another businessman, who need to sell their land to the developer – but won’t be able to make the much-needed profit, if Anselmo does not join them in the endeavour. Both men depend on the deal, because the middle class Julian, as well as the petit-bourgeois Paco, are living above their means. The pace kicks up in the last fifteen minutes, with an action-packed finale that is much in contrast to what went on before, very much action packed: a boy falls into a well, after Anselmo foresees the accident – shades of the magic realism of The Soul of Flies. But the bloody confrontation between the male trio, whilst telegraphed, somehow seems a rather simplistic solution.
Great on atmosphere, THE SHEPHERD is a brilliant explores the collision of very different lives, but the characters – apart from Anselmo – are somehow unwritten. To resolve this rather delicate story with an explosion of violence, is somehow negating everything what went before. Beautiful to look at, and directed with great panache, it is Burley the writer whose narrative fails him in the end. AS
ON RELEASE IN ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM 2 JUNE 2017