Dor (Longing) review – Romanian sheep-herders discuss the meaning of life

<span>Tending the flock… Stefan Gota becomes friends with local herdsmen</span><span>Photograph: PR handout undefined</span>
Tending the flock… Stefan Gota becomes friends with local herdsmenPhotograph: PR handout undefined

Returning to his home country of Romania after a period of living in Belgium, Stefan finds a new metier as a shepherd, tending to a flock of sheep in the countryside. His daily rituals, as well as his friendships with fellow herdsmen, are captured with a vivid intimacy in Jannes Callens’s impressionistic documentary. Delicately transitioning between the blue hues of daybreak, the golden sunlight of the day, and the inkiness of night, the painterly cinematography echoes Stefan’s in-between state as he navigates a new threshold of life.

From the ringing of sheep bells to the gentle rustling of grass as the men guide the animals through picturesque pasture, the soundscape of Dor is immersive, even idyllic. Yet the film also makes space for tough truths: opening up to Teo, his 17-year-old field partner, Stefan speaks of his inability to feel emotionally attached to a place. His time abroad was marred with heartbreak and job insecurity, while at the same time, he does not feel grounded in his native home. In contrast, though much younger, Teo comes off as startlingly more self-assured. He is certain that he would never leave Romania; he would get too homesick.

In a line of work that is inherently transient, a sense of camaraderie also blossoms between the men as they talk into the small hours of the morning, or give each other tattoos as mementoes. These moments of tenderness seem to wash away the physical toil of farm work, as well as easing Stefan’s unmoored loneliness. Bookended by two closeups of his face – one lit by the light of dawn, the other by a campfire – Dor suggests not so much a journey of transformation but rather a perpetual, suspended state of yearning.

• Dor (Longing) is available from 23 February on True Story.