As Beautiful as it is Bleak, A Quiet Documentary on Sheep Migration in Hiver Nomade


There are only two people with more than a few minutes of screentime in Hiver Nomade, but what Manuel von Stürler’s documentary lacks in human beings it more than makes up for in snow-covered sheep. The creatures bleat softly as they’re kept in line by no-nonsense herding dogs, stoic donkeys dutifully carrying the shepherds’ provisions on their backs all the while. Much like Sweetgrass before it, Hiver Nomade charts the arduous passage of some 800 sheep across unforgiving terrain—namely, somewhere near the French–Swiss border in winter. The thin layer of permafrost covering the ground is lovely to look at but makes sustenance difficult to come by for the animals. Von Stürler offers raw footage of the four-month trek itself, which is often mesmerizing in its austere beauty; there’s no narration, intertitles, or any other authorial hand-holding to trump up the message the images already convey on their own. And while it may be difficult to find room in your heart for more than one ultra-vérité documentary about sheepherding, von Stürler’s is made memorable by the fact that this is essentially a death march for the unwitting animals: The point of the journey is to fatten the sheep up (“for consumption,” as the lead shepherd says). Many have names and distinct personalities we’re able to pick up on, and it doesn’t take a bleeding heart to care that, by now, most of them have ceased to exist.