PIKADERO (Pi-ka-de-ro, noun 1. A riding school 2. A public place for sexual encounters)
From tough times spring success: a study of how the economic downturn impacts on the sex lives of young Spaniards won new Scottish director Ben Sharrock the Michael Powell Award for best British feature film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
The confident and accomplished Basque-language movie follows protagonists Ane (Barbara Goenaga) and Gorka (Joseba Usabiaga) as they are continually thwarted in their efforts to find a Pikadero (not a riding school).
It may seem like an odd subject matter for a young Scottish film maker, but Ben’s multi-award winning directorial debut takes the curio of public sexual encounters and turns it into a wry and often melancholic reflection on Spain’s economic crisis.
“I have a certain style of film-making, I’m very particular about the kind of stories I want to tell,” he says.
Searching for an interesting way to explore the impact of notoriously high unemployment on Spain’s youth, he was struck by the growing popularity of Pikaderos. “It isn’t really seen as a seedy thing like it would be in the UK; it is pretty cultural acceptable,” he explains.
“People are living at home with their parents until a lot later in life, which means they don’t have somewhere to be without their parents knocking about and asking questions.”
When the film first came out, it was billed as a romantic comedy, and Ben worried about giving audiences the impression they would be coming to see the Basque equivalent of Love Actually.
“For me I see it as a drama with elements of humour in it, a drama comedy rather than a comedy drama,” he told the Edinburgh audience at a post film Q&A.
Pikadero is certainly slow paced, both in dialogue and its use of static shots, juxtaposing the industrial areas of the Basque Country and a lush green landscape not dissimilar to Scotland.
Yet through its ode to the stasis of Gorka and Ane – he wants a full time job at the local factory, she (much like the 30,000 Spaniards who arrived in Scotland last year) plans to leave a “pointless” second degree and move to Edinburgh to work in hospitality – there are charmingly comedic undertones.
The Michael Powell Award is the ninth award the film has garnered after premiering last year at the New Director’s competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival, with Ben describing the film’s success as “incredible”.
“When we achieved that it felt like a mission complete, but then the goalposts kept changing the more recognition we got.”
Bringing the film home for a UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival was particularly special for Ben.
“Edinburgh is historically one of the best film festivals in the world and I’m really lucky to have it in my home town,” he says.
“It was the festival that I grew up with and attended when I was just starting out with film making, so to return with a film in the main competition was really amazing.
“It has been a fantastic experience showing the film to audiences around the world, but to show it to an audience in your home city is something special and quite daunting.”
It was at film school in Edinburgh that he met Irune Gurtubai, his partner and producer of Pikadero, who introduced him to the culture of the Basque Country.
“It sounds silly but I feel part Basque and my experience in the Basque Country has always been pretty full-on,” he says, talking of time spent there with Irune’s family.
“The culture is really important for them. Being part of this is extremely special, but it also gives you a different perspective as an outsider.”
Ben sees some similarities between the Basque Country and Scotland – it does, despite what Irune says, rain there just as much – but as an outsider he was able to bring a different perspective, finding “amazing, interesting things that are normalised for Basques”.
The young Scottish film-maker says he took a “massive risk” by making Pikadero, and its success can only boost his opportunities in the future.
“The feeling is indescribable, but you can’t hang around too long to enjoy it as you have to use the momentum to do it again. That’s the way the industry works.”
Watch a trailer from Pikadero: