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Pascal, 53, and Carole, 28, are shepherds. In the month of November 2010, they embark on their long winter transhumance: four months during which they will have to cover 600 km in the Swiss-French region, accompanied by three donkeys, four dogs and a eight hundred sheep. An exceptional adventure is about to begin: they brave the cold and the bad weather day in day out, with a canvas cover and animal skins as their only shelter at night. This saga reveals a tough and exacting profession requiring constant improvisation and unflinching attention to nature, the animals and the cosmos. Written by
This is a beautiful documentary that follows two shepherds, Pascal and Carole, as they lead 800 sheep on a winter trek across Switzerland. The shepherds and sheep are accompanied by 4 border collie dogs, including new puppy Leon, who is the son of head dog Titus, and 3 donkeys. The documentary feels like just that; a film documenting and showing what happens naturally. Of course there are editing choices that disrupt a faithful translation of what happens onto film but the film team are silent and unobtrusive throughout the journey made by the group.
We observe the relationship dynamics between Pascal and Carole and some of these are mirrored in the interplay of dogs and sheep. The trio of donkeys are more egalitarian and when one of them, Figaro, develops abscesses on his hooves that mean he has to be replaced, the new member, Paulo, is met with a frosty reception from the other donkeys. Later there is a small but significant scene where Paulo gets into difficulties and the 2 donkeys show their concern. He has been accepted at last.
Along the way sheep are taken off for market and one such sale affords Pascal and Carole money for a Christmas meal of oysters, fois gras and chocolate roulade with wine, enjoyed around a fire in the night of winter.
The winter is mostly white and when the snow ceases we see verdant hills and fields that the group cross. Along the way there is respite for Pascal and Carole as strangers and friendly acquaintances provide refreshment, hot food and even hot showers. The film captures their sensate experience as we feel the chill air, the bitter cold around the heat of a fire whose flames burn the cheeks, the sloughing off of dirt by a hot shower and the deliciousness of hot food and drink. There are other pleasures such as cuddling Leon, he being a hot water bottle when he needs carrying, the interactions with woolly sheep and dogs licking faces and hands. These feelings are evoked by the crisp footage on the screen. The only sounds are bells, bleating sheep and the odd baying donkey. Occasionally there is traffic and one amazing scene sees the whole troupe cross a bridge above a busy road. The traffic, sights of cars and the infrequent ringing of Pascal's mobile phone feel intrusive and alien in this pastoral film.
Such an existence is undoubtedly hard but brings its own rewards as humans and animals co-exist peacefully for a short time as travelling companions in a landscape with which they are one.
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