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The Shepherd Review

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When fiftysomething shepherd Anselmo (Miguel Martin) declines to sell the land on which he tends his flock with loyal dog Pillo to some out-of-town property developers, hard-up neighbours Julián (Alfonso Mendiguchía) and Paco (Juan Luis Sara) try to pressurise him into changing his mind.

★★★★★

As Jean Renoir famously noted in La Règle du Jeu, the awful thing about life is that “everyone has their reasons”, and Jonathan Cenzual Burley reveals the maxim's enduring validity in this poignant study of a contented shepherd refusing to be intimidated by the march of so-called progress. As in The Soul Of Flies (2011) and The Year And The Vineyard (2013), Cenzual Burley takes his time to let the story unfold and uses the dramatic landscape to examine the psychological state of his characters. But his ongoing trouble with endings recurs to leave an otherwise engaging saga feeling a tad rushed and implausible.

A thoughtful parable on the corrupting nature of avarice.

The underdog has become a fixture of recessional cinema, with several holding out against building schemes that would enrich their neighbours. But, while the henpecked Paco (Luis Sara) has a family to provide for and the deeply indebted Julián (Mendiguchia) stands to lose his slaughterhouse, the book-loving Anselmo (Miguel Martin) is so settled in his arduous lifestyle that no amount of money can persuade him to sell the shack in which he was born.

Acting as his own cinematographer, Cenzual Burley makes painterly use of the cloudscapes over the Salamanca plain to convey the simple pleasures Anselmo refuses to relinquish. But, following incidents with a billboard and a well, events take a melodramatic turn that doesn’t quite ring true. Nevertheless, this remains a thoughtful parable on the corrupting nature of avarice.

Echoing Miguel Martin’s quiet intensity, this solemn slice of rustic realism compels until things go all tele-novelettish in the final reel.

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