Sweetgrass* Review

Sweetgrass film still


Sweetgrass is an anthropological insight into the at times unforgiving yet humorous relationship between man, beast and nature.

Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Sweetgrass takes place for the most part in south-central Montana, relatively close to Yellowstone National Park. It traces the steady footed if not slightly exasperated footsteps of cowboy hat wearing Montana ranchers taking 3,000 sheep up into the Absarkoa-Beartooth mountains on a federal grazing permit.

Western ranchers have used this route for over 100 years, the point of the exercise is to range their sheep for summer pasture on the lush grasses of the mountains. It’s an arduous and gruelling task, 150 miles of mindlessly bleeting sheep constantly wandering in the wrong direction and veering off cliffs can test a man’s patience as can be observed from the consistent flow of cursing from the ranchers.

Due to a heavy decline interest in wool and meat the sheep trade is in dire straits in the US, there were six million sheep in Montana alone at one point, now there are six million sheep in the whole country. Due to Federal Law this is the very last time anyone in America will be able to make this journey, the film is a monument to a proud tradition on its last ever excursion

The two herders that are left to escort the sheep up to the highest and final part of the mountain are Sgt John Sweet and Pat Connolly. John is constantly smoking thin, gnarled roll-up cigarettes and sings to himself, mostly keeping quiet or talking to his horse or the sheep in a lulling repetitive manner.

Pat Connolly, on the other hand, isn’t as experienced and his youth manifests itself through his mad fits of frustration screaming at the sheep hurling a whole host of ridiculous if not extremely entertaining insults, Sweet just remains placid amongst the dust bowls.

There are some excellent panoramic shots of the vast beauty of the mountains as Connolly calls his mother in tears, complaining of a sore knee and a tired dog. The film uses irony as a device to throw man into sharp relief against the epic and beautiful landscapes.

Sweetgrass is an anthropological insight into the at times unforgiving yet humorous relationship between man, beast and nature. A shot of a sheep chewing on grass and then staring straight into the camera goes on for around three minutes but rather than it being monotonous it’s strangely hypnotising, you start looking for things beyond the eyes, you begin to think about sentience, you start thinking beyond what is right in front of you.

This is filmmaking that makes you think and reflect throughout the whole experience.

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