Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Healing in the wild

MASCULINITY / Thirteen men confront and redefine masculinity through emotional and physical exercises in a serene Spanish retreat.
Director: Miguel Eek
Distributor: Filmin
Country: Spain

Burden, Miguel Eek’s evocative documentary, invites viewers into a secluded Spanish countryside retreat where thirteen men confront the multifaceted nature of their masculinity. Shot in stark black-and-white, the film captures the raw essence of this journey, free from the distractions of colour, focusing instead on the intense emotional landscapes of its subjects.

Eek, whose filmmaking is imbued with a personal narrative reflective of his relationship with his father, captures these men in respectful moments of unfiltered emotion. The three-day retreat serves as a crucible and sanctuary. Through rigorous physical and emotional exercises, the participants grapple with the patriarchal constructs that have long dictated their identities.

Burden documentary Miguel Eek
Burden, a film by Miguel Eek

The power of silence and screams

The film opens with a prolonged silence, only to be shattered by a session of screaming therapy. This primal outburst preludes the film’s exploration of wrath, a central theme that drives its narrative arc. How do you feel wrath? This question echoes through the film, compelling each participant to confront their embedded rage through various therapeutic exercises, such as full-body mud wraps and silent gatherings around the fire, where each waits for the courage to speak to find them.

The stories shared are raw and harrowing, portraying masculinity not as a monolith but as a spectrum of experiences and emotions. One participant speaks about grooming and sexual abuse at the hands of an older man. Another reveals his fear of losing the trauma-induced «hole inside,» a psychological chasm that, despite its detriment, has become a familiar part of his identity. In another scene, the men engage in a group exercise of sleep crying, releasing pent-up emotions together. The documentary also features two-by-two walks through the woods, with one man blindfolded and led by another. These walks are meant to foster the bilateral confluence of trust and vulnerability, epitomised by a participant recounting his neglectful father.

The film’s strength is conveying the participants’ inner turmoil and gradual transformation without sensationalism. Eek’s previous work, notably The First Woman, which sensitively portrays the lives of psychiatric patients, informs his approach here, emphasising the pursuit of self-understanding​.

The stories shared are raw and harrowing, portraying masculinity not as a monolith but as a spectrum of experiences and emotions.

Redefining masculinity

In an era where traditional gender roles are increasingly scrutinised, Burden offers its viewpoint on the necessity of redefining masculinity to include emotional openness and sensitivity. This aligns with broader, albeit ideologically fragmented, cultural movements that challenge the notion that (male) strength is synonymous with stoicism. Modern masculinity is evolving, with increasing recognition that emotional intelligence and vulnerability are integral to healthy male identities, generationally.

As the men share their stories and support one another, a new kind of fraternity emerges—one based on empathy and mutual respect. The retreat becomes a microcosm of a society grappling with evolving definitions of masculinity, offering a vision of what manhood can be when stripped of patriarchal constraints. This evolution, often referred to as the «awakened masculine,» encourages men to embrace traits like accountability, respect for women and marginalised groups, and emotional resilience. Of course, the alternatives to these characteristics have never been the default. Never-the-less, the Western capitalist society of strength or death has indeed created and permeated them within conservative tradition— a cycle requiring a sustained microscope by which to stimulate change.

Burden documentary Miguel Eek
Burden, a film by Miguel Eek

Intimate approach

Eek’s directorial approach, characterised by close-ups and handheld camera work, invites the viewer into the intimate world of the retreat. This technique ilicits a deeper-than-usual connection between the audience and the participants, allowing the emotional journeys to unfold with an authenticity that is at once compelling and disarming. The film’s undoubted strength lies in its ability to capture these moments without intrusion, offering a respectful and genuine portrayal of these men’s experiences.

Ultimately, Burden is a mirror that reflects the conflicts and contradictions within us all, urging an embrace of the full spectrum of our humanity. As societal expectations of men continue to shift, this documentary underscores the importance of redefining masculinity in ways that promote mental health and emotional well-being.

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Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He is Communications Manager and Industry Editor of MTR.

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