Money. It divides and conquers like nothing else. It makes people do strange things, it can make some people do anything. Mix money with land and you have the Molotov cocktail of greed, set to put some men on a collision course.
Anselmo, Miguel Martin (Cell 211, The Contestant), is a middle-aged shepherd who lives on the Spanish plains in a run-down shack with little in the way of amenities and just a dog, Pillo, and his sheep as company.
One day a couple of men in suits from a construction company turn up and say they want to purchase his land from him at four-times the going rate. His land will be turned into a sports complex, with swimming pool.
He’s told that his other neighbours have already agreed to sell, but Anselmo is happy with his life and knows no other, he, does not want to sell. This conflicts with two people in particular. The local slaughterhouse owner, Julian, Alfonso Mediguchia (The Contestant, Los Exitosos Pells), and Paco, Juan Luis Sara.
I went into The Shepherd knowing very little about it and after the first ten-minutes, knew even less. We see Anselmo, going about his daily routines, moving his sheep, living his simple, but happy, life. There is no sense of what will happen, what’s coming.
What arrives is a bloody, spaghetti-western style, metaphor for how greed, land and money corrupts. As the film moves on we become aware that the land is producing less and less, many neighbours are happy to sell as it’s what’s best for them.
Others though, are only interested in the money, the things it could buy them, the lifestyle it may lead to. And when it becomes clear that one of the group is involved in shady-dealings with the construction company, and will stop at nothing to get the deal done, things are only going to go one way.
Writer and director Jonathan Cenzual Burley (who was a research on the TV series Never Mind The Buzzcocks for many years and has since wrote and directed The Soul of Flies and El ano y la vina) has crafted something quite different from his previous films which have tended to lean towards the comedic.
The Shepherd is very much a serious film, beautifully shot and a stunning performance from Miguel Martin.
The downsides? Well, it’s not perfect. Long-time readers will know my loathing of long-lingering shots of not much, such as trees blowing in the wind, a cloud, that sort of thing. The Shepherd features lots of this, and I do mean a lot. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is beautifully shot and even those long lingering shots are gorgeous. However, there’s just far too many of them and, for me, it breaks the tension of the movie at the wrong moments.
Take those out though, and we wouldn’t have had this spaghetti-western-esq feel that we get so…I don’t know. It didn’t halt my enjoyment as much as those sorts of shots usually do in movies but I was aware of them.
They shouldn’t, and don’t, detract from what it a wonderfully shot, acted and thought-out film.
The Shepherd (El Pastor) is in cinemas on 2nd June 2017.