The Shepherd (3 stars)

The Shepherd

Superbly performed, appealingly pertinent Spanish drama from Jonathan Cenzual Burley

Initially coming off like a bucolic David vs Goliath parable – stubborn bumpkin defies money-minded developers to keep his unremarkable patch of land – this Spanish drama / thriller gathers a gradual head of steam until its atmosphere is more reminiscent of the bloodier breed of western.

Miguel Martin compels as Anselmo, a modest 55-year-old shepherd who's perfectly content living a bare-bones life among his sheep, brightened by his loyal working dog, a weekly crop of library books and a mild flirtation with the librarian who recommends them. When a couple of local property developers make him an offer on his land, he's not interested. But how much can one individual disconnect his existence from the desires of others? Especially when they share a community? Other townspeople, lured by the promise of money, are keen for the sale to go ahead. And, it transpires, are prepared to pull out various stops to make it happen.

Though it's by-the-book arthouse stuff to some extent, the story also has an appealing pertinence, resembling as it does the stories of Donald Trump's notorious pre-Presidency efforts to pry people off his planned golf developments. And if some of its central moral points err on the side of obviousness, The Shepherd (El Pastor) is both gorgeously visualised, and expertly paced for the slow release of information and the manipulation of our feelings. Since Anselmo is a man not given to revealing much about himself, we can't be sure of what he might be capable. And can we be certain that the other villagers' desire for some profit and stability in the life of the community is all bad?

Performances are exquisitely judged throughout, and director Jonathan Cenzual Burley's thoughtful cinematography (he also wrote and produced the film) skilfully juxtaposes glorious vistas with cramped interiors, the tight dimensions and shabbiness of which hint at their occupants' deeper frustrations.

Selected release from Fri 2 Jun.

The Shepherd

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • Spain / UK
  • 97 min
  • Directed by: Jonathan Cenzual Burley
  • Cast: Miguel Martin, Alfonso Mendiguchia, Juan Luis Sara, Maribel Iglesias.

Anselmo (Martin) is a modest 55-year-old shepherd who is content with his bare-bones life, until a couple of property developers try to buy his land. Things then snowball. Writer/director Burley skilfully sets a slow pace and the performances are exquisitely judged.