The Shepherd Film Review

The Shepherd Film Review
I do not know if Spanish filmmaker Jonathan Cenzual Burley is an admirer of the late American director Sidney Lumet, but I suspect he might be. In one of Lumet’s final interviews he stated that the fight for individuality, against the voracious forces in modern life that conspire to crush it, is a major theme in his work. “The Shepherd” is an illustration of those forces at work. Burley’s tragic tale of a man indifferent to greed is reminiscent of Lumet’s finest work.

“The Shepherd” opens with a beautiful sequence of visual storytelling. A day in the life of Salamanca shepherd, Anselmo Garcia (Miguel Martin), lyrically unfolds on the screen. There is very little dialogue as Garcia’s only companions are his dog and his sheep. His peaceful existence is soon to be interrupted, however, by the arrival of a construction firm that plans to build a housing development. They offer Anselmo four times the going rate for his land saying, “It’s an offer you can’t refuse.”

This verbal allusion to “The Godfather” (1972) foreshadows the violence, both psychological and physical, to come. Anselmo’s two neighbors are secretly colluding with the construction firm. In debt and with no reverence for the land, Julian (Alfonso Mendiguchia) and Paco (Juan Luis Sara) amp up the pressure on Anselmo. He proves impervious to their demands. Anselmo wants to preserve the simple home in which he was born and the sheep herd which is his life’s work. Julian offers Anselmo a job in his slaughterhouse. The cold, metallic surfaces of the factory contrast with the warm, sunlit landscape that is Anselmo’s abode.

Without preaching, Burley’s film shows how the ideology of hyper-consumerism has infected most of the world. Anselmo lives without a television, car, or phone and is viewed as something of a freak. He is referred to as a fool, a retard, and the village idiot for rejecting the construction firm’s money. An avid reader and lover of Dickens, Anselmo is none of these. He is capable of being broken, though, and when his beloved dog is attacked, Anslemo turns vigilante in revenge.

Jonathan Cenzual Burley is the writer, director, editor, and cinematographer of “The Shepherd”. He breaks some of the rules of composition and technique in order to give his film an almost documentary feel. Although the viewer can predict the film’s outcome, Miguel Martin’s performance as Anselmo keeps you riveted until the final frame.

“The Shepherd” (“El Pastor”) was released in 2017. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles and is unrated. Available on DVD and streaming on Amazon, I watched the film at my own expense. “By Sidney Lumet” (2016), Nancy Buirski’s documentary in which Lumet discusses his life and work (including “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon”), is the source of the quote in paragraph one. Review posted on 1/13/2019.

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