Solitary but content, middle-aged local shepherd Anselmo (Miguel Martin) lives alone in a shack just outside of town with his dog Pillo. It’s a tough but rewarding existence – Anselmo spending long days tending his flock, reading, a glass or two of wine in the local bar in the evening before doing it all over again the next day – but it’s the only life he’s ever known or wanted. 

When some big city developers offer to buy his land in order to build a luxury housing complex, Anselmo refuses, raising the ire of the owners of the neighbouring lands, local businessman Julian (Alfonso Mendiguchia) and henpecked thug Paco (Juan Luis Sara) whose deal to sell their land will fall through without Anselmo’s. 

Greedy and desperate, they start to apply pressure, gently at first, but with time running out and Anselmo refusing to budge, they up the ante, becoming increasingly violent as events spiral towards tragedy.  

Practically the very definition of a slow-burner, Spanish writer/director Jonathan Cenzual Burley’s The Shepherd (El Pastor) is a quietly intense morality tale that compels from it’s first scene, a virtually wordless sequence where the solitary Anselmo rises in the madrugada, that dusky half-light before dawn, to tend his flock. 

We follow him through his day; rolling that first cigarette, his first muddy coffee, venturing out alone but for his dog and his sheep, wandering the hills, framed against the harsh, unforgiving, rural Spanish landscape, skipping stones across the pond, reading dog-eared library books, returning home in the gloaming, composer Tim Walters throbbing score building, soaring, complementing Cenzual Burley’s breathtaking visuals. 

His Spartan existence idealised but never sentimentalised, Anselmo is no reclusive ascetic – he’s sociable and engaged with the world – but on his terms, and Miguel Martin’s performance is sensitive and playful, his shepherd far from the village idiot he’s taken for by the film’s more venal characters. 

While it’s increasingly doom-laden final third feels almost breathlessly rushed in comparison to the slow, contemplative build of the hour that’s gone before, Cenzual Burley’s The Shepherd, as a parable of the corrupting influence of greed on a small community and the devastation it ultimately wreaks, impresses with it’s intense simplicity and deservedly won three awards at last years Raindance Film Festival.      

Movie Review: The Shepherd (El Pastor)
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