Film Review: The Shepherd

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 1 Jun 2017

Jonathan Cenzual Burley’s The Shepherd (or El Pastor) is pitched somewhere between kitchen sink realism, the naturalist leanings of a Terrence Malick film, and slightly misjudged thriller. The result is a compelling, well acted drama that doesn’t quite live up to its own high standards.

Miguel Martin plays Anselmo, a shepherd who leads a simple life outside a village. He’d previously been offered a property in the village but rejected it to go on living in his little house without heating or electricity, and only his dog, Pillo, for company. He drinks wine, he reads, he herds sheep. The film begins in deliberately gentle fashion, allowing us to ease into Anselmo’s genteel way of life, which is soon to be disturbed by a pair of developers who want to buy up the local farmland to build a modern housing development. Anselmo’s house, they tell him with straight faces, is where the squash courts will be. Unsurprisingly, Anselmo doesn’t want to sell – he likes his quiet life – and politely refuses. What he doesn’t count on is the disgruntlement his decision will cause in the local neighbourhood.

From that point onward, Anselmo’s sleepy lifestyle gets more and more regularly interrupted. We feel his frustration as the world outside his little farm brings itself to bear on his innocent existence. This manifests itself not only in the drama itself, but in the pacing, which picks up as Anselmo begins to feel more and more put upon.

Martin, who won the best actor award at Raindance, brings quiet grace to Anselmo – it’s not a showy role, nor one that demands a massive range, but crucially we warm to him as a protagonist. This feeling is helped by his pleasant but brief interactions with the village folk, in particular with Concha (a very warm, if sparsely used, Maribel Iglesias), who clearly has an interest in Anselmo that is only partially reciprocated.

In the final act, Burley moves the narrative into something approaching thriller territory, at which point the film begins to lose its sheen of believability. The tonal shift struck me as a slightly laboured attempt to inject excitement, and I found it dramatically unconvincing, while the abrupt ending felt like it was doing a disservice to a well-established character. It doesn’t help that there are one or two contrivances brought into the narrative, in particular one involving a well, which disrupt the pacing.

But despite those issues, I still enjoyed The Shepherd. It establishes a lov ely atmosphere in its first half, benefits from some good performances, and it looks and sounds great. It’s just a shame that the film departs with a sense of what might have been.


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