by Emmanuel Cuénod
- A fascinating discovery of the pastoral world and the life of a couple of shepherds. European Film Award for Best Documentary.
Winter Nomads [+see also:
interview: Manuel von Stürler
film profile] is a documentary about transhumance which tells the story of a fascinating pair of sheperds who seem to be worlds apart, except for their love of nature and their conviction that less is always better than too much. A falsely pastoral film, which finally turns out to be truly human.
Carole and Pascal are sheperds. With their three donkeys and their dog, they drive 800 sheep across the winter countryside in French-speaking Switzerland, finding new pastures every day, constantly facing the bitter cold and endless accidents that happen along the way. Manuel von Stürler, until then a composer, poet and playwright, sees them one day trouping past his door. He talks to them. He listens to them. And immediately understands that they will be the protagonists of his first film.
Borne along by the dazzling photography of cinematographer Camille Cottagnoud and an original, skilfully orchestrated low-fi soundtrack (composed by the director), Winter Nomads is a more complex movie than it may first seem. For even if the documentary describes a nomadic lifestyle that is about to disappear, thus confronting spectators with their own sedentary relationship to nature, the essence of the tale is finally to be found elsewhere. Most probably in the relationship between Carole, 28 years old and full of energy, and Pascal, a taciturn, bearded 53 year-old, who embody so many opposites: man-woman, young-old, master-disciple, lovers-colleagues etc. Yet somehow, the strange harmony between the couple never seems to falter.
The result is a film more human than pastoral, bearing witness to a bygone – or almost bygone – world, but most of all reminding the audience that cinema is first and foremost a matter of tension between strengths and opposites that attract and devour each other, chaos and accidents.
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