Deep in the forgotten countryside of the Spanish Basque country, Ander (Joxean Bengoetxea), a balding forty-something, lives with his mother and sister on their family farm. If he’s not working the hilly land, running errands or doing chores, he’s at the factory nearby. His monotonous life is cut up by random meetings with a brutish neighbour with whom he can get drunk and visit the village prostitute Reme.
In a bid to keep up their traditional way if life, Ander’s austere mother shames him for not getting married. She does this not so much for concern for his happiness, but rather to bring in a helping hand on the farm. It has become even more of an issue when his sister announced she getting married. So, not only will she marry before him, but she will move out, leaving him all alone to tend to the business of the farm. To make matters worse, Ander breaks his leg in an accident. His brother-in-law introduces them to Peruvian labourer Jose, to help out while he’s down. The good-looking, gentle, perfectly mannered hard working young man fits in perfectly. Maybe even a little too perfectly.
Ander is thrilled by Jose’s company, not realising that he is falling in love with him. A sexual incident occurs sparking what could be the beginning of a relationship. Ander is consumed with fear and confusion. Attraction, rejection and frustration then battle it out in an internal conflict. And then, Ii his simple life was not already shaken up enough, his mother dies.
The story could be classed an unconventional homosexual coming of age drama, but the film offers much more. It is also a rare glimpse into a traditional rural Basque life, which may not be around that much longer. The film takes you through to the slow decline of a way of life, without regrets but without much accusation either. As the modern world permeates into the countryside, the old ways erode. Society changes – factory work complements farm incomes, the infiltration of drug issues, depopulation, traditional family structures and values change. Even language changes. While Ander’s mother spoke only Basque, her children are perfectly bilingual Spanish. And their children… may actually have trouble speaking Basque at all. There is a certain sadness in the ending of an old way of life, but it is also clear that the new way – more open to other family constructs, centred around feelings and desire rather than custom, speaking an international language rather than a local one – have their merits too.
The film manages to trace the developments of both Ander and the traditional rural culture around him without too much stereotyping. There are, however, some weaknesses too: Jose is too perfect to be real, manoeuvring his way through the cultural minefield better than a native and the brutish neighbour appears too brutish, even for a brute. These two imperfections cumulate in one of the last scenes which just crop up too suddenly in a film which has taken such care to be thorough. A pity, but I can forgive the blemish.
It has been a pleasure to watch a film which manages to portray Basque rural life so credibly, taking us through the challenges they face in the persona of Ander. An excellent first feature film for Roberto Caston. You can be sure that this is not the last time you are hearing of him.