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Mikel Gurrea • Director of Suro

“It’s the stories that draw me to them”


- The Basque filmmaker talks to us about his feature debut, on the heels of the enthusiastic welcome it received at the San Sebastián and Zurich Film Festivals

Mikel Gurrea • Director of Suro
(© Abycine)

It can’t be denied that Mikel Gurrea (San Sebastián, 1985) has just made a big entrance. After taking part in the competitive Official Section of the recent San Sebastián Film Festival with his feature debut, Suro [+see also:
film review
interview: Mikel Gurrea
film profile
, he received the Association of Basque Screenwriters, Irizar and FIPRESCI Awards at the Basque gathering. Last Saturday, he presented his film in Albacete, at the 24th edition of Abycine, fresh off a screening at the Zurich Film Festival. We met up with him at the Gran Hotel in La Mancha’s mecca of indie cinema.

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Cineuropa: Suro was produced by companies in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where it was shot.
Mikel Gurrea:
Yes, it’s two-thirds Catalan and one-third Basque. I split my time between these two regions because, although I was born in one of them, I went to study and forged ties in the other. It could be that my next adventure will lead me to Extremadura, as it’s the stories that draw me to them. I had ties to the area where we shot the film because of my partner, whose family were from there, and it’s become an important place in my life.

So were you inspired by your own experiences?
In 2010, when I finished my degree and didn’t know what to do, I agreed to a suggestion made by my partner’s family to work as a temporary employee during cork harvesting season, in the north of the province of Girona. There, I discovered a universe rich in textures and sounds – a very cinematographic place that I had never seen on film before. It was there that I also experienced some initial contradictory feelings: I had come on behalf of landowners, but I wasn’t one myself; I spoke Catalan, but I’m Basque; and I was a temp but I would be leaving soon, whereas for the other workers, that was their livelihood.

A tad intrusive then
My place was as a visitor. That’s the seed of this story.

But the main topic of the film is contradiction.
Yes; you can’t get much more human than that. We live in a transitory state between the image we have of ourselves and what we do. It’s a constant process of negotiation, a continuous justification, or lack thereof, of whether what we are doing reflects what we believe or not.

But sometimes remaining true to one’s ideas and principles can go against the grain of one’s feelings.
Yes; the most difficult and most necessary thing is to renew the pact with oneself each day and communicate it to the person you are sharing your life with: what is it that I think or that I want? What sits well with me? What I can do? And to partake in an act of communication, which is what the protagonists are missing, as they do not communicate either with themselves or with each other. That’s where the conflicts in Suro arise from.

You also tackle – indirectly – subjects such as ambition and capitalism.
By telling the story of a couple who are about to start their life anew – a kind of relaunch – in a male-dominated environment, all of those strata of class and gender were bound to come to the surface. The film doesn’t have a didactic aim, but rather invites us to call things into question.

You were previously here, at Abycine Lanza, with this project in 2018. How does this type of lab help?
They provide really important support, as they offer a professional setting, a stimulus, space and resources to develop the film, when it’s nothing but a project and you’re very much on your own. They serve as endorsements of places that are already quite prestigious; you can use them to establish relationships with collaborators who have faith in you, and then the institutions also believe in the project because these events have already given you their backing.

You spent almost five years getting Suro off the ground.
I finished the first script in 2016. It’s true that we were ready to shoot in summer 2020, but what happened to everyone else also happened to us... And as this film is seasonal and could only be shot during the harvesting of the cork in the summer, we skipped a year.

It’s a similar situation to what happened to Carla Simón with the peach harvesting in Alcarràs [+see also:
film review
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Giovanni Pompili
film profile
. You can’t help but talk about the fields, as Spanish cinema is once again glancing in that direction.
It maybe seems like we did it because of the pandemic, with the idea of getting away from the city, but in our case, it predated COVID-19. It already happened in the 1960s with the whole hippie wave. It’s something universal and cyclical: it has to do with the fact that we’ve severed ties with all things natural, and that is causing concern. And in Spain, we all have some kind of family bond with the rural world, which means there is a curiosity and a desire to take fictional stories into that terrain: to see what happens when the characters are in contact with the elements of nature, because in the city, it’s easier to live off ideas and theories. That’s the clash you find in my film.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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