The slow demise of traditional farming practices appears to be the hot-button topic of slowburn documentary cinema, to namecheck Raymond Depardon’s ‘Modern Life’ and Gideon Koppel’s ‘Sleep Furiously’ as just two such offerings. Another is the stripped-back, serene ‘Sweetgrass’, which bears many of the elegiac hallmarks of the modern western. We’re presented with a three-way tussle between man, beast and nature, as two shepherds drive a flock across the 300km trail of Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth mountain range for one last time. Shot on crude video (which does scant justice to sweeping rural vistas), the film offers a plentitude of telling diversions and fascinating observations without ever feeling profound or timely. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash are credited as ‘recordists’ to suggest that their presence didn’t influence the material. Which is ironic considering that footage of the shepherds bellowing expletives at the sheep or just mumbling out into the abyss feel played for the camera.
Friday April 22 2011