‘Pikadero’: San Sebastian Review

Ben Sharrock’s film is an offbeat debut drama about a Basque couple’s frustrated hunt for love in tough economic times.

A distinctive sense of style and a concern about the plight of young people in troubled economic times are the main concerns of Pikadero, Ben Sharrock’s quietly idiosyncratic debut about the unfulfilled and unfulfilling relationship between two frustrated lovers in a Basque village. The film is touching, absurd and visually striking, and as a Scot who spends part of his time in the Basque country, Sharrock is perfectly placed as the sympathetic outsider to record such matters. Following its warm reception in San Sebastian, Pikadero deserves to find further festival fulfillment.

Deadpan, uncommunicative Gorka (Joseba Usabiaga) lives at home, works in a factory and plays rugby, and this is about it for his life until he meets Ane (Barbara Goenaga), an art student who likewise feels that the future offers little. For some mysterious reason which it’s beyond the script to clarify, Ane is sexually attracted to the (by his own definition) big-eared, big-eyed, big-nosed Gorka, and the film’s main running joke has them trying to find a ‘picadero‘ — somewhere private to have sex, a goal which will continually leave them frustrated.

The Bottom Line

A deft balance of the pessimistic and the playful.

Early scenes in particular have a wry, obliquely-angled humor as, for example, when their public restroom love-making is interrupted by a guy who takes a fancy to Ane’s shirt, or when during a rugby game the teams run across the screen and back again. Such scenes — and throughout, Sharrock is a major aficionado of the locked-down shot — could have been taken from Jacques Tati; while the ever-unsmiling Gorka could be Pikadero’s low-key stab at a Basque Buster Keaton, mutely adrift in an antagonistic world.

The action moves from one oppressive location to another, always returning to its perfectly-framed shot of the couple’s favorite bench at the train station, somewhere which is appropriately able to simultaneously suggest here and somewhere else. Domestic scenes are also well-observed, with Gorka and family trapped inside cramped interiors as the sound of a washing machine runs nightmarishly in the background.

Sharrock establishes a strong, Kaurismaki-dependent style which always, perhaps too insistently, seeks out the unexpected. It incorporates the use of lengthy fixed camera shots, often symmetrically composed, flashes of intense color in counterpoint to the drabness of the lives on display, and slow, reflective dialogues which are sometimes just too slow. It’s all highly carefully choreographed down to the last detail and a little airless, sometimes leaving the characters themselves looking slightly stranded as elements of the wider visual scheme.

Though this emphasis on dislocation may be part of Sharrock’s point, more problematic is the fact that the figure of Ane herself — played by Goenaga with great winsomeness — seems adrift in other ways, with neither home, family or friends: she could almost be a figure of Gorka’s imagination.

The economic crisis hangs heavy over the world of Pikadero, in the abandoned factories, in the inability of Gorka and Ane to find the right romantic location, and in the characters’ low self-esteem: Gorka’s friend Iñaki (Lander Otaola, a lot of fun) is comically learning German, while Ane is thinking of going to Edinburgh (where there is indeed a burgeoning Spanish population doing work it’s overqualified for.)

Via fleeting moments, a picture of this Basque village is built up as a persuasive background to the main story, in images for example of a man drinking alcohol from a bucket and then having to be taken home by Gorka, or a child dragging an unwilling dog on a lead. They are images of disappointed dreams, and that, finally, is what this fascinating but flawed debut is all about.

Production company: Caravan Cinema

Cast: Joseba Usabiaga, Barbara Goenaga, Lander Otaola, Zoreon Eguileor

Director, screenwriter: Ben Sharrock

Producer: Irune Gurtubai

Director of photography: Nick Cooke

Production designer:

Costume designer: Eider Ruiz

Editor: Karel Dolak

Composer: Atzi Muramatsu

Sales: Caravan Cinema

No rating, 99 minutes