Carefully staged, glacial in its pacing but numbingly brutal in the denouement, The Shepherd is worthy of emotional investment and likely to stay with you.
This Spanish language film which won numerous awards at The Raindance Festival in 2016 is an exercise in intimacy. At once juxtaposed by a subtle, central, isolated and measured performance The Shepherd is punctuated by moments of emotion. Miguel Martin’s Anselmo lives alone, was born and raised in the house he now occupies and has only his dog for company. A desire to live alone, tend his flock and in possession of no ambition for material gain or betterment, he is the exception not a rule in his small village.
It is here in this void between modern world values and old fashioned attitudes that The Shepherd exists. A place in which director Jonathan Cenzual Burley has crafted a fable examining greed, needs, wants and desires through the simple premise of land development. Political concerns, an urge for progress and society’s self-interest are all explored and played out quietly without fanfare or unnecessary expense.
Shot using a combination of hand-held and close-up camerawork, as well as existing structures and sparse set dressing its economy and isolationist approach belie any lack of funding. Burley spends time building character observing rather than directing, as we are slowly made to understand Anselmo and his indifference to others as a conscious choice. Miguel Martin, who won Best Actor for his role, gives us glances and gestures using silence with the bravery of a stage veteran. His opposite numbers in this moral pantomime are instilled with enough venom and reptilian charm to gain our sympathy, but retain the necessary repulsive traits come the endgame.
Bribery, temptations of the flesh, violence and cold blooded threats are all metered out in equal measure by each party in turn. Never overt or gratuitous Burley uses moments of disruption to underline miscommunication, corruption of head or heart and how such things tear communities apart. Big business urban re-development, corporate takeovers and sharp suited sharks tailored in tainted money deals are nothing new. Irrespective of the film their intentions are never honourable, always leading to heartbreak which leaves emotional upheaval as a legacy.
What Burley says through this film has been done before but rarely with such understatement, beauty or restraint. The Shepherd invites you in with shots of open vistas, tranquil hillsides and evening sunsets, before turning to brooding clouds, purple skylines and property fire come the conclusion. There is an honesty in each performance which goes beyond the material breathing life into a topic both relevant and worthy of debate. Carefully staged, glacial in its pacing but numbingly brutal in the denouement, The Shepherd is worthy of emotional investment and likely to stay with you. Winner of The Grand Jury Prize for Best Film at the Latinita Festival de Cine Espanol earlier this year, it hits cinemas for a limited run in June and all arthouse aficionados should take note.