Donkeyote tells the story of Manolo, a 73-year-old man who doesn’t want to give up adventuring just yet. He still lives a very active life in the countryside of Spain with his dogs and beloved donkey, Gorrion. His great dream is going to America and walking the infamous Trail of Tears with his loyal donkey companion. Manolo doesn’t seem like a man who ever plans on slowing down. “Taking it easy” isn’t in his vocabulary.
His daughter Paquita worries about him throughout the movie, accompanying him to doctor’s visits and insisting he keep his phone on him at all times. He makes light of his age and ailing health, saying that Gorrion and the dogs will let him know if something is wrong. When Manolo tells Paquita his plan to go to America, she’s flummoxed. “America?” she repeats several times.
Unfortunately, we do not get to see Manolo traipse American trails in this movie. It is far too expensive to ship a donkey to America. Fortunately, we do follow him through the Spanish countryside as he tries to find a way to get to America with Gorrion and his faithful dog, Zafrana.
The trio makes it to Seville, where Manolo tries to get an appointment with a shipping company to talk further about getting Gorrion to America. The company can’t meet with him even though he came all this way, and the frustration is palpable. Manolo keeps going, however. This trip is his dream.
Gorrion’s fear of water presents another challenge. If they are going to get to America somehow someday, Gorrion will need to be on a boat. Manolo decides to do a “dry run” and take his animals on a short boat ride while on their trip through Spain. It takes Gorrion a long time to get on that boat (from evening until morning), but Manolo tells Paquita over the phone that he handled it like a champ. His frustration with the donkey and flippant report to Paquita show Manolo’s charm and personality, even more so than other parts of the movie.
Though you see scary moments with Manolo’s health and sometimes uncomfortable reminders of his age and frailty, the audience was laughing throughout the whole film. Manolo is a man who disarms with charm. When someone worries, he laughs it off. He is a charismatic character, a real brave cowboy. He is old and sometimes grumpy and wants to do what he’s been doing his whole life. His best friends are a donkey and a couple dogs. Manolo is a wonderful protagonist.
This movie made me intensely aware of the nature of documentaries and the role of the documentarian. This isn’t scripted; everything is real life. So what do you do when there’s a problem with your subject? At one point in the film, Manolo has pain in his legs that looks severe. For several long seconds no one says anything, and I sat there feeling helpless. Eventually, the cameraman asks if he’s OK, and he says yes. However, for me this situation raises a question: In a documentary, when do you stop filming?
It is subtly referred to in the film, but I didn’t catch it until the Q&A that Manolo is director Chico Pereira’s uncle and godfather. Pereira and Manolo’s other two nephews grew up with the man turning everyday moments into adventures, Pereira said. When the three grew up and all became filmmakers, they decided to take him on an adventure and make a movie about him. Throughout filming, Manolo and Gorrion dictated the pace of the movie.
The connection between the man and his donkey is undeniable. Paquita tells Gorrion to take care of her father when they embark on the trip, and Pereira confirmed in the Q&A that the donkey did. With Manolo’s hat on, he looks like a cowboy, but when it’s removed, his age is much more visible. Whenever there was a problem with Manolo, the donkey would nudge his hat off, said Pereira. As they rambled through the wilderness, Gorrion had Manolo’s back.
This was a great movie to watch on a sleepy Sunday morning. It had a very nostalgic feel, like we were really watching a real-life Don Quijote ramble through the countryside.
The part that will stay with me the most is the trust and happiness that is so evident between Manolo and Gorrion. In the end, Gorrion overcomes his fear of water and stands in the ocean with Manolo.
The night before, Gorrion had been mistaken for a drug-smuggling vessel, and the movie ends with a picturesque, calming shot of Manolo recounting the event through song while standing in the water with his animal companions.
MOVE gives Donkeyote 4 out of 5 stars.