ARREO unveils the refreshing, thought-provoking story of Eliseo Parada and his wife, transhumant goat herders of western Argentina, who must face both the challenge of seeing their pastoralist livelihood threatened by "progress," and the uncertainty of not knowing for how much longer their own sons will keep the generations-old family tradition.
Right from the start, ARREO grabs viewers by the senses and drops them in the middle of the Andes for a ride along Eliseo, his five hundred goats, the four herding dogs, the mule, and a ubiquitous dust cloud. Besides the initial visual impact, the rhythmic, almost hypnotic sounds coming from man and animal alike quickly lead to a sweet surrender. Dust will likely make its way into the palate uninvited. The lively lot functions as a unified whole: solid teamwork prevails in the journey to and from the grazing lands, all against a breathtaking canvas of dunes, wind, mountains, valleys, river, stars, fire, rain. No element of nature is absent from this beauty feast.
Awareness will be the viewer’s companion for the rest of the ride. Eliseo has much to say; about the simple pleasures of everyday life as a goatherd, and about the potential end of a tradition passed down through four generations and honored by him with absolute conviction. Charismatic and witty, Eliseo often turns to improvising décimas (ten-line stanzas), or composing rancheras, to say his “truths,” as he likes to call the realities of gaucho life, which entail a lot more than moving animals from one place to another. Watching over the does at kidding out time, matching nanny goats with their kids, bringing back runaways, protecting the herd from predators, training horses, braiding lariats, making bread…there is always something to do, and all so new to the city folk.
Luckily, Eliseo is not alone. Juana, his wife, and their sons José Abel and Facundo –both in their twenties- work from dawn to dusk, each doing their part to preserve their ancestral means of sustenance. This primordial task has become increasingly difficult, and the Paradas are not immune to dilemmas, especially as their sons are faced with the possibility of leaving the country and getting a more profitable, less “dusty” job in town. The two brothers mull over tempting prospects. In the meantime, Eliseo does not hesitate: he knows he will be a goat herder until the end of his days. By choice, and out of love.
ARREO represents the opportunity to learn about a little-known culture and to become aware of the ways in which modernity threatens it. The natural beauty from beginning to end turns out to be the most pleasant learning environment anyone could hope for.