fri 10/04/2020

The Shepherd review - quiet but stirring David v Goliath fable | reviews, news & interviews

The Shepherd review - quiet but stirring David v Goliath fable

The Shepherd review - quiet but stirring David v Goliath fable

Low-budget Raindance winner pits the little man against corporate greed

You've been trumpado: Miguel Martín in 'The Shepherd'

The Shepherd – original title El pastor – is a Spanish film which carried all before it at the Raindance Festival. It’s a very Raindance kind of movie.

The Shepherd – original title El pastor – is a Spanish film which carried all before it at the Raindance Festival. It’s a very Raindance kind of movie. Shot on a low budget with a small cast, a single handheld camera shaking like a leaf, it sticks up for the little guy against a big bad corporate world. And it’s very much the vision of one sensibility: Jonathan Cenzual Burley wrote, shot, directed and produced it. It’s his third film - not bad for someone who only six years ago was a junior research on Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

The shepherd of the title is Anselmo (Miguel Martín), a solitary figure who tends to his flock with the hell of his handsome dog Pillo. They live in a shack in the middle of a wind-blasted plain. He seems to be a hermit, and yet he’s a frequent visitor to the nearby town, where he drinks every evening in the same bar. Everyone knows him, and many think of him as a halfwit. He’s dubbed a retard, an idiot, a moron. “He must be a little slow,” someone says. We know he isn’t because he drops into the library to hand back a Dickens he’s just enjoyed and borrow a book about Picasso.

His solitary life is uninterrupted when two developers tell him of a plan to build a complex of flats across the plain on the edge of town. “They promise great bounty if he’ll just give up his house and his pasture, on which they plan to build a squash court. Naturally, he doesn’t want to sell. The whole community has a vested interest in Anselmo caving in, and individuals embark on what feels like a concerted campaign to change his mind: his best friend, the librarian (Maribel Iglesias), but above all the owner of the local abattoir (Alfonso Mendiguchía). “You live in the stone age,” he’s told, because he doesn’t watch TV. Anselmo is quietly adamant: he won’t budge. A local family man deep in debt (Juan Luis Sara), an unexploded powderkeg, is the only one to be overtly threatening.The ShepherdWe’re in Local Hero territory here, not to mention its real-life parallel You’ve Been Trumped. In this David v Goliath narrative, resistance takes the form of stubborn passivity but also naivety. It doesn’t occur to Anselmo to suspect others of malign motives. “You have to learn to kill,” says the abattoir owner offering him a job, believing him incapable of violence. That changes when he sees a vast new hoarding advertising “fields of tranquillity and beauty for you and your family”. He torches it, but the police can’t prove it’s him.

At this midway point the film turns a corner into direct confrontation, and the nuts and bolts of plotting slightly loosen. A key bit of information about a dodgy deal is imparted via barroom gossip. Anselmo performs a selfless act of life-saving heroism for which – implausibly - he receives no thanks.

And yet this is a quietly stirring film with its heart in the right place, and a finale that delivers. Miguel Martín is never less than watchable as the taciturn, oblivious presence on the fringes of a sinister, squabbling melodrama. It looks handsome too. Burley, who doesn’t seem to own a tripod, fills the screen with towering cloudscapes, dark and looming or shimmering and uplit at sunset. There is a quiet insistence to Tim Walters’s soundtrack. The sheep are good too.

@JasperRees

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