thu 24/09/2020

Donkeyote review - a quiet revelation | reviews, news & interviews

Donkeyote review - a quiet revelation

Donkeyote review - a quiet revelation

Poignant documentary examining determination, resilience and the inevitability of ageing

It’s an undeniably quirky set-up: an elderly Spanish farmer who takes it upon himself to travel to America and walk – alone – the epic, 2,200-mile Trail of Tears, following the westward route taken by the Cherokee fleeing white settlers. Alone, that is, apart from his trusty sheepdog Zafrana and Andalusian donkey Gorrión.

It’s such a bizarre idea, in fact, that a travel agent whose help the old man attempts to enlist worries he’s being pranked. But what’s most successful, and memorable, about Chico Pereira’s poignant documentary – co-produced by the Scottish Documentary Institute, and winner of best doc at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival – is its slow, thoughtful, minimalist storytelling, and the way the director paints in farmer Manolo’s background and allows his tale to unfold with almost effortless ease. So much so, in fact, that we quickly forget about the oddness of his endeavour, and focus instead on this quiet but remarkable man (who is actually Pereira’s uncle and godfather), his relationships with his family and animals, and his understated determination.

This is no glib parable of a country boy lost in the big city

We thereby get to see Manolo’s warm interactions with his daughter Paca, who’s naturally unconvinced by this apparently preposterous idea, and a difficult medical fitness examination that concludes – not surprisingly – that 73-year-old Manolo really should be taking things easier. More importantly, we get glimpses into Manolo’s own solitary life, the solo excusions he’s been making all his life into the arid Spanish countryside – captured beautifully in the muted browns and greens of Julian Schwanitz’s photography – and his cranky relationship with his animals. Long-suffering donkey Gorrión might remain rather on the sidelines for much of the film, but makes his own stubborn determination humorously felt when confronted with crossing a precarious gangplank to a boat.

Once Manolo’s trip is underway – though it’s not immediately clear exactly where he’s headed – Pereira gently contrasts the gleaming technology of modern urban life with the homespun authenticity of the farmer’s outlook. But this is no glib parable of a country boy lost in the big city: Manolo strikes up conversations with truckers, delivers poetry with gusto in a bar, guides his unconventional trio of travellers across buzzing road intersections, and even parks them in front of a multinational corporation he hopes – unsuccessfully, it turns out – will help finance his trip.

Pereira’s film is a deceptively slight, quietly spoken tale of an old man’s slightly barmy caprices. But underneath its tender storytelling it deals with determination and resilience, with the inevitability of ageing, and with the importance of a slow contemplation of our world. It’s unavoidably narrowly focused in scope, but Donkeyote is an understated revelation.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Donkeyote


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