Donkeyote

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Donkeyote
"The director talks about a "sense of play" in the press notes but are the audience really playing if they don't know the rules ahead of time?"

Documentaries are changing, mostly for the better. Talking heads are out and fly-on-the-wall is in. Boundaries are there to be pushed, with animation or re-enactment or any number of modern techniques. But where do we, the believing audience sit in all this? If a film is branded docudrama, we know it's not quite real even if we can't see the join. But what if what you're watching is presented as fact, when in many ways it isn't?

This question was at the top of my mind after watching Chico Pereira's Donkeyote. While I understand how many people like to know all about a film before entering the cinema, I've always taken the opposite approach, avoiding, so far as it is possible, trailers and synopses. This meant that while viewing the film, which charts the story of Manolo, an seventy-something Spaniard - and uncle of the director - and his decision to try to take his donkey Gorrión on a 2200-mile trek across the US, I was absorbed.

Copy picture

Afterwards, though, reading the director's statement, I discovered that much of it - despite a lack of labelling - was fictionalised, a collaboration between Manolo and his nephew, and one that was rooted in a different 'truth' than I had been led to believe. The director talks about a "sense of play" in the press notes but are the audience really playing if they don't know the rules ahead of time?

At face value, this remains an enjoyable film - and if I had known about its fictionalised element going in, I probably would have felt different than I do now. As with all documentaries, there is investment required on the part of the viewer and I was all in for this tale of an ageing man in failing health and his undoubted connection to his constant companion.

Pereira appears to take a quietly observational stance, watching Manolo, Gorrión and his dog Zafrana go about their business, finding snatches of humour, particularly in Manolo's attempts to learn English. He makes good use of the golden hours of the day, at first and last light, and shows a keen eye for spotting the pace of change - a high-speed train in contrast to riding on a donkey.

Of course, to Gorrión the difference between fiction and fact is irrelevant. But I'm no donkey and while I may be tilting at windmills - after all, the film was named Best Documentary at EIFF - the nagging sense of being sold something I didn't know I was buying remains with me.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2017
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Manolo and his donkey Gorrión plan a journey.

Director: Chico Pereira

Writer: Gabriel Molera, Chico Pereira, Manuel Pereira

Starring: Paca Molera Pereira, Mamen Gómez Heredia, Manuel Molera Aparicio

Year: 2017

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: UK, Germany, Spain


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