The Shepherd (El Pastor) (2016)

In The Shepherd (El Pastor) Jonathan Cenzual Burley captures the heart of rural Spain in a beautifully observed and moving David and Goliath battle.

Sheep May Not Safely Graze

by Alexa Dalby

The Shepherd

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

There’s something hypnotic about the wide, flat Spanish landscape that dominates this film. On its own in the middle of the plain is a shack where shepherd Anselmo (Miguel Martin) lives happily alone in the place where he was born, surrounded by his hardy flock. We see him waking up and the intricacies of his morning routine, and the rhythms of his solitary lifestyle, out herding with his beloved dog. At night he goes to the local bar for one glass of wine. It’s clear he has his place in the community. It’s a quiet, basic life and he has no desire for a television or any other trappings of modernity. But he’s not uneducated – he’s a regular user of the local library, where the friendly librarian (Maribel Iglesias) recommends books to him. She seems to have a soft spot for him, but he doesn’t seem to need other people.

The serpent in paradise is the local property developer who wants to buy Anselmo’s land, together with that of his neighbours, for a massive new town project. This triggers greed and corruption that upsets this precious equilibrium. The other two men involved (Alfonso Mendiguchía and Juan Luis Sara) are keen, each for their own reasons, to profit from a lucrative deal. Anselmo isn’t interested in money, he just wants to stay put as he is, but the snag is that the developer won’t go through with the deal unless all three of them agree. Things turn nasty as all kinds of pressure are put on Anselmo to change his mind. He is threatened, victimised, and treated not as the valued member of the community that he is but as an outsider as the worst of human nature is released – not just in them, but in himself too, to his shock and surprise.

Writer and director Jonathan Cenzual Burley (El año y la viña and The Soul of Flies) has captured the essence of rural Spain, in a close-knit village community and a small town. His film is naturalistic, with a detailed and intense performance from Martin as its central character, with the supporting characters equally believable. His use of landscape is stunning. And the theme of the destruction of the old ways in favour of ill-fated developments, as in another recent film set in Spain The Olive Tree, could not be more relevant. The Shepherd (El Pastor) is a little gem and well worth seeking out.

El Pastor is released on 2 June 2017 in the UK.

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