Sweetgrass

Sweetgrass ★★★½

A spellbinding, occasionally beautiful and sometimes even unsettling series of pastoral images presented as unsentimentally as possible by documentarian and ethnographer Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Sweetgrass tells the story of some of the last modern day American shepherds as they traverse miles of Montana wilderness towards summer pasture—it's a fascinating journey through old world simplicity, with moments of elation but mostly what seems like immense hardship in a clearly backbreaking field of work.

Mesmerising footage of wool being sheared, a worn out old cowboy dozing under a tree with his hat on his face, vast misty plains filled beyond the field of view with grazing sheep are just a few of the indelible images captured in a way that is rigorously pragmatic but also effortlessly cinematic and unspoiled by the artifice of musical scoring or arty tinkering. There's unintentional humour—a sheep 'breaking the fourth wall' to introduce the film in a slyly meta fashion and later a sequence with an exasperated herder swearing at sheep for several minutes straight, ready to the throw the towel at any moment and though not always engaging, it is an important document of a dying way of life, now preserved on film with cultural significance.