The Shepherd


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Shepherd
"Money, as the old saying goes, is the root of all evil here, not just because of inherent greed but because of the way it permeates through relationships, poisoning as it passes through."

The Spanish for shepherd is "el pastor" making a specific connection between the occupation and the pastoral landscape he inhabits and it's a link that director Jonathan Cenzual Burley maintains strongly throughout his Spanish-set drama, with shots of wide-open vistas and turbulent cloud frequently to the fore. Anselmo (Miguel Martín) lives in the open countryside near a small town with his dog Pillo. His house is basic but the way he likes it and Cenzual Burley takes a measured approach to showing us his daily routine, which consists of rising early to tend his sheep, reading books from the local library to help pass the time and retiring to the local downbeat bar in the evening for a glass or two of wine and a bowl of peanuts.

It is little surprise then when he rejects an offer from a construction company to sell his land for a small fortune. The problem is, his pocket of pasture is just one of a number the firm want to buy but it's all or nothing as far as they are concerned. This does not go down well with greedy family man Paco (Juan Luis Sara) or Julian (Alfonso Mendiguchía), the slick but debt-ridden owner of the local slaughterhouse, both of whom see the cash as an answer to their problems and set about trying to change Anselmo's mind by fair means ultimately followed by foul.

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The chief driver of the plot is attitudes to cash. "Envy is stronger than money," insists one man who believes Anselmo will be won over once he sees how the other owners will profit. But Anselmo - who remains remarkably down to earth despite his apparently saintly disposition - has little interest in worldly possessions beyond his animals and a packet of cigarettes. Even his books aren't owned, but rather borrowed from the local library, where librarian Conchi (Maribel Iglesias) seems to understand his values. In the rest of the townsfolk's mind, this disinterest in dinero is considered a sign of stupidity, with characters again and again suggesting that Anselmo is a fool. Money, as the old saying goes, is the root of all evil here, not just because of inherent greed but because of the way it permeates through relationships, poisoning as it passes through.

Cenzual Burley carefully probes this idea, while slowly building a sense of menace - a scene in which he cuts from the open vistas to the jarring threat of sterile saws and other apparatus of the slaughterhouse is particularly impressive.

The more the director begins to emphasise the film's thriller elements, the more the film drifts towards cliche - must pets and children in this sort of drama, for example, always face existential threat? Nevertheless, he has accomplished much on a tight budget, more proof you don't always need a king's ransom in order to succeed on your own terms.

Reviewed on: 27 May 2017
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Trouble brews for a shepherd when he refuses to sell his land to a developer.
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Director: Jonathan Cenzual Burley

Writer: Jonathan Cenzual Burley

Starring: Alfonso Mendiguchía, Miguel Martín, Maribel Iglesias, Juan Luis Sara, Carlos San Jorge

Year: 2016

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain


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