“But time growing old teaches all things.” – Aeschylus
There is sometimes the rare quiet film which crosses your path to capture your heart and give you the sense of what life is all about, and Chico Pereira’s sweet fable of a story “Donkeyote” is one of those films. Throughout the festival, my partner-in-crime and I discussed what our favorite films were, but that was an unfair challenge, for all the films we witnessed were good in their own right. So, the question became which one film, out of the many, would be the first you would want to revisit? “Donkeyote” was my overwhelming choice.
Director Chico Perira chose his uncle for the subject of the classical unbending devotion to old ways and respect for this world and its treasures. We get to follow Manolo, a retired laborer from Southern Spain, who chases one last dream to traverse the 2200 mile Trail Of Tears with his faithful longtime companion Gorrión (meaning sparrow); a stubborn, but very lovable donkey. Both his daughter and his doctor advise against this planned last walk, but Manolo is a man to be reckoned with and begins to develop and execute his plan, with a trip to the coast of Spain to hopefully barter passage for Gorrión. This film is filled with gentle humor and a stillness where time seems almost meaningless within the simple life of Manolo.
Perira sets the audience in his capable hands right from the beginning shot of Gorrión in shadow against the setting sun. It’s a beautifully cinematic shot that sets up the landscape and its relation to his subjects. Manolo calls out to his donkey off camera and, like a dog, Gorrión slowly trots to his masters voice. This is the Spain of sunshine, rolling hills, and gentle waters. It is Manolo’s real home. The only place he feels at peace and one with the universe. Director of photography, Julian Schwanitz, paints with available light and from the donkey’s eye-line perspective, often to a sweet comical effect. “Donkeyote” is a road movie at heart and its odyssey refuses to change with the times.
One significant absence is the lack of a musical soundtrack. Perira chose to use natural sounds to compliment the images and it is magical. The sound of a running stream, night time insects, and the gravel underneath Gorrión’s footsteps is music in of itself. When Manolo enters a small village halfway through his trip, he joins some patrons at a bar for a beautiful song and a much needed drink. The man’s singing voice speaks of a time lost in this modern world and shows us the importance of keeping the old ways alive and well.
There is something to be said about slowing down our busy schedules in this fast paced world and appreciate the simple philosophy of a man such as Manolo. The audience sees through the eyes of his companion, Gorrión (similar to the donkey in Robert Bresson’s masterful “Au Hasard Balthazar” from 1966). Gorrión is devoted to Manolo, but has its own fears and stubbornness like we all do. This culminates in a hilarious scene of the animal not wanting to cross a narrow bridge over water. The more patient Manolo is, the more obstinate Gorrión becomes. The camerawork punches home the cosmic joke like no other.
“Donkeyote” is a slice of life, a cultural gem held under the microscope of society change. It displays the old adage…the more things change, the more they stay the same. Somewhere in southern Spain, Manolo and Gorrión are proving it with their simple adventures.
RATING: This Is A RUN LIKE HELL To Film, Do Not Walk!! (worthy of repeated viewings)
“Donkeyote” [2017 – 85 min] written/directed by Chico Pereira, director of photography Julian Schwanitz, edited by Nick Gibbon.