Gorka is a young Basque man who works in a local factory in his little village, in a very routine job. He lives at the same house as his parents and grandfather, since he can’t afford to rent, let alone buy, an apartment, due to the economic crisis in Spain these days. In his free time Gorka loves to play rugby and hang around with his best friend Inaki with whom he dreams of a slightly better life. This is the starting point for Pikadero, the debut film – a sad but at the same time funny drama – of Scottish screenwriter and director Ben Sharrock.
As the story goes on, everything does change in Gorka’s life when he meets Ane, a beautiful art student who sees things a little differently from him. Ane believes that there is no future for those who stay in the tiny village. Ane takes Gorka by storm, opens his eyes, develops his mind and teaches him something else about life: that happiness could be found someplace else. Maybe even in Scotland. Ane expresses to Gorka her desire to look for a new life in a new place. She convinces him that building a life together in their village is quite impossible. She argues that they can’t even make love privately, because they don’t have their own apartment.
Gorka loves Ane very much and wanst to fulfill her dreams, which are very much his own, but a personal conflict tears him apart. He finds it very difficult to tell his parents that he is about to leave. And it’s even harder when it comes to his grandfather. Gorka can’t just leave his roots and family heritage behind and move on with his life. On the surface, the subject of the film Pikadero (which means a spot for making love in public) is very “heavy”, one could say even dark. but Sharrock, a very young but very talented director, managed to create an extremely fine feature, very funny with a lot of charm. The script is very precise, and its translation to the screen is wise and inspiring.
The frame is rich and colourful, and the composition has a lot of meaning in conveying the atmosphere in which the characters function. The camera hardly moves, but the scenes jump from one to the next, revealing step by step the story very quietly, with no background music. After Sharrock jumps from place to place and from one human story to the other, he goes back to the very first frame of the film, in which we see the bunch in the train station, where Gorka and Ane first met – a point at which the film takes a rest for a while.
The casting is excellent. The actors Joseba Usabiaga and Barbara Goenaga create very productive sexual tension for the story, which has a very comic dimension. Slowly but surely Sharrock exposes the features of his heroes in delicate mimicry. In the very beginning of the film the lines of the dialogues are short, and the gestures of the actors complete the picture and the meaning of the scenes. The audience can enjoy the short and funny sentences of the heroes, and likewise from their reflection in their eyes. All that makes you love the characters. In addition, the director uses the compositions to make our identification with the heroes stronger and stronger, and the delicate cuts from long shots to medium and than to extreme close-up highlight this. Thus we are able to be exposed to the rare beauty of actress Goenaga.
As for the camerawork, the foreground and background are at the same level, and the flat frame presents throughout Sharrock’s direction something akin to a surreal painting – a metaphor of the economic crisis within which the story takes place.
The characters with their comical and sharp dialogue create a fascinating contrast between the general negative atmosphere and the heroes, who are very positive. Thus there is a growing tension between what happens on the screen and the viewer in the dark theatre. The audience does compensate, with a lot of pleasure, for the gap between the director’s social views and the funny and positive characters.
On the one hand, the economic crisis makes the atmosphere heavy and tense, but on the other hand the heroes makes us laugh out loud, and that makes us enjoy them. There is also a contradiction in the editing, which was intended by the director. In the first scene you laugh until you cry, as the main characters try to make love in public toilets, and a third character tries to spoil and demolish things for them. The first impression is that of an easygoing film, but immediately afterwards we are exposed, through the excellent cinematography of Nick Cook, to the wide planes, which are also dark, of the Basque area in the north of Spain.
The script has a lot of plot twists and the style of Sharrock’s direction resembles that of one of distinguished Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. Not less than that! Pikadero is also a journey into the mind of people living under very hard conditions because of the economic crisis. But the director was wise enough not to let the audience enter a state of depression or lose hope. The bottom line is that the story is optimistic and funny, and proves that there is a different way to make a social film. A way that will make the crowd leave the theatre with a big smile.
Edited by Carmen Gray
© FIPRESCI 2015