The Shepherd (El Pastor) Review
Jonathan Cenzual Burley’s The Shepherd, tells the story of a man who prefers the simple pleasures in life, shunning TV, computers and even central heating in favour of a good book and a log fire. He runs his flock of sheep every day on his plot of land, accompanied by his faithful dog, before heading into town for a few short glasses of wine at the local bar. Anselmo (Miguel Martín) has lived in the same simple, run down house since he was born and although viewed as antiquated by some, he is generally well liked and respected.
Land developers are keen to build a housing estate on Anselmo’s land, as well as that of his neighbours, and are willing to pay considerably over the market price. Not only has this always been the shepherd’s home but it is a way of life he is not prepared to sell out for a big pay-off, much to the dissatisfaction of his fellow landowners. Of the three sites needed to be secured, Anselmo is the only one intent on holding out. Greed and resentment starts to grow once it becomes clear his mind is not for changing, pushing some of the townspeople down a dark path in their desperation to see the deal go through.
Burley keeps a restrained approach for much of the film, staying by the shepherd’s side so we too can stride at his leisurely pace. It also works well as an understated modern Western, taking in the rugged lie of the land that defines his rustic lifestyle. The problems start to arise in the final third of the film, as it morphs into a TV drama, quickly escalating the stakes and highlighting how underwritten many of the characters had been up until that point. How far some the neighbours are willing to go appear out of kilter with their personalities and the justification used is tenuous at best. This naturally places more strain onto the supporting cast and the limitations of their range is painful to watch at times.
As a treatise on how corruption and greed can infiltrate even the smallest of communities, Burley’s film offers some interesting ideas. It’s a shame that once the groundwork has been laid and the dramatic elements make an attempt to build on that foundation, the narrative is nowhere near as successful and undermines some of the good work established early on. The Shepherd serves as a gentle reminder of those who fight to retain their traditional ways of life, in the face of corporate controlled modernisation.