Film Review: Sweetgrass (2003). 5/5 Stars

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What is the miracle of the sheep herd? There is the man and woman, their horses and dogs: a collective intelligence feeding, protecting and maintaining the flock. It is the dream of the seasons, flowing cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The flock is constant but ever changing

The drama of birth: The Sheppard separates new mother and lamb from the flock. The mother’s instinct for the protection of the crowd and to be with her lamb pulls her in two directions. The pull of her offspring’s cry is too strong and she allows herself to be separated and penned. Safely apart she might now be carefully looked after and required to feed an orphan, a singular process of trickery whereby the Sheppard hoodwinks the mother into accepting a lamb that isn’t her own.

 

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With the springtime comes the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains and the 3000 head flock is let loose from the barn that has sheltered it across the raging scope of the Montana winter. The flock, like schooling fish or flocking birds, weaves its way across the landscape in flowing patterns. The dog, watching for subtle gestures from the Sheppard turns the flock this way and that. A study in enthusiasm, a portrait of intelligence.

 

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Prairie, glacial valley, mountainside, forest. The flock moves across wild summer pasture, growing fat and fat is money in the bank. The bond between sheep and lamb, dog and man is further revealed. Bears prey, knees wear, horses grow thin and dogs lame. 150 miles of mountain go by and exhaustion sets in. Cocksuckers, sonofabitch, dirty stinking motherfucking whores. Little sleep, predators and hard weather, the Sheppard weeps thinking he can’t take anymore.

 

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‘Sweetgrass’ is a stunning meditation about man, dog, sheep, horse and grizzly bear. It is a rumination on passing seasons and food supply. It is a prayer, portrait and narrative and hymn to the soul of the landscape and it leaves no stone unturned as it seeks to set to record a tradition that is about to be consigned to memory for the times they are a changing. The sheep drive has been going on for well over a 150 years but the economics of it don’t add up anymore.

I don’t know why I chose this one. It looked like it could be boring. It wasn’t. It was rich and subtle, deep and luminous. It was perfect.

 

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