El Pastor (The Shepherd)
Jonathan Cenzual Burley’s The Shepherd tells the story of Anselmo (Miguel Martín), a shepherd living a humble, austere life in the visually stunning countryside of central Spain’s rural plains in Salamanca. An early outdoor sequence of vast landscape shots, as well as a more intimate cinematography capturing both Anselmo’s rural physiognomy and his interaction with both his sheep and dog Pillo (whom he himself says are enough to keep him happy in life), gracefully encapsulate the ruralism of Anselmo’s quotidian lifestyle as a shepherd. It is a lonely life, but one that we come to appreciate in its fullness; one which resonates in all its austereness at the film’s climactic denouement, and one which Anselmo himself is fully content with.
The tranquillity of Salamanca’s plains – Anselmo’s home from birth – is punctured when a construction company shows interest in buying his land to build a lavish development of high-end houses and sports facilities. The shepherd refuses various financial offers on behalf of the construction company, yet these humble refusals to sell send catastrophic ripples throughout the village community. It appears that each villager has a vested interest in the construction of the new urban development, and these interests converge into an ending that is completely at odds with the beautiful landscape we are introduced to at the beginning of the film.
The crescendo of The Shepherd is dealt with masterfully by Burley. The feature offers Anselmo and his austere life in his run-down shack the patience and intimacy they deserve, and the oppression that the character experiences has an equally natural, tentative pace. This allows the picture to synopsise the inner workings of human desires eloquently – the sinister undertones of human experience that lie under the thin veneer of “pleasant” village life. These are desires of individuals suffering repressive economic crises, which are clearly juxtaposed with the rural freedom that Anselmo has. The uncontrollable mortgages and equally overwhelming accumulated debts of the various villagers (which become the reason for such violence against Anselmo) hark back to the palpable EU financial crisis – particularly affecting Spain – and will resonate with spectators who, like Anselmo, have experienced the unwelcoming externalities of what appears to be a harsh economic system. A filmic metaphor for the harsh realities of greed within an equally avaricious economic system, The Shepherd depicts the eternal struggle between urbanity and ruralism, and the catastrophic consequences resulting from the conflicting morals dictating these two parallel words.
The Shepherd is released in selected cinemas on 2nd June 2017.
Watch the trailer for El Pastor here: