We wanted to pay a nostalgic but unsentimental tribute to the last resistant families of farmers still hanging on to their traditions.

Director Carla Simón in the treatment of Alcarràs

In her second movie Alcarràs, Catalan director Carla Simón digs back into her own memories to tell the story of the tight-knit Solé family. Simón’s family has always been growing peaches in the small village of Alcarràs, Catalonia. While growing up, this is where she spent most of her holidays. It wasn’t until her grandfather died, however, that she understood how fragile the traditional farming system typical of Catalonia actually is. Contextually, she also grasped the huge cinematic value of this system doomed to vanish. The light; the trees and fields; the people and their faces; the toughness of their work; the heat in the summer: it all had to be documented. That is when Simòn came up with the idea for the movie Alcarràs. She wanted to pay tribute to the families of the last resistant families of Catalonia.

Alcarràs premiered at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival. This family drama received critical acclaim and became the first Catalan-language movie to win the Golden Bear. But Simón, a Berlinale Talents alumni, is no newcomer to the Berlin Film Festival. Back in 2017, her autobiographical debut movie Summer 1993 won the GWFF Best First Feature Award and the Generation Kplus Grand Prix. What’s more, in 2018, Simón received the Women in Motion Emerging Talent Award at Cannes.

A tight-knit family facing change

In Alcarràs, director Simón managed to show with great sensitivity the intricate dynamics of a large family facing a major change. The story depicts the final summer in which the protagonist’s family will pick peaches from the orchard where they have worked for generations. The landowner has, indeed, decided to get rid of the trees and install solar panels, which are more lucrative. Each character in the movie reacts differently to this news. But, as in a chain, it also affects everyone else.

Head of the family Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet) refuses to accept reality and works harder. His brother Rogelio (Josep Abad), on the other hand, adapts quickly. Grandfather Cisco (Carles Cabós) tries to change the landowner’s mind with gifts and tenderness. The two teenagers, Mariona (Xènia Roset) and Roger (Albert Bosch) are stuck in between. They work hard to help the family business. However, at the same time, they want to enjoy their freedom. Last, there is naughty little Iris (Ainet Jounou). She is too young to understand what is going on. Nevertheless, she becomes the link between the disappearing archaic agricultural world and the approaching modernity. Iris spends her summer playing with her cousins (Joel Rovira and Isaac Rovira), listening to her grandma’s old stories about the region, and learning traditional Catalan farmers’ songs from her grandpa.

Contemplative cinema

Crossed dialogues; opposing energies; chaos; small but meaningful gestures; emotional dominoes; wide landscapes and precise close-ups: these are the tools used to bring forward this choral narrative. Alcarràs is a prime example of contemplative cinema characterized by a minimalist and observational style with little or no narration at all. Realism plays a central role, as in other slow cinema movies that almost blend in with documentaries. To name a few: Robert Bresson‘s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966); Céline Sciamma‘s Portrait of a Lady on Fire; Alfonso Cuarón‘s Roma (2018); and Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Global issues through locals’ eyes

It’s beautiful to go to the supermarket and buy apples, but there is brutal work behind it, and people aren’t aware of it. […] In Alcarràs you can see all that.

Albert Bosch at Alcarràs premiere’s press conference

In Alcarràs, global environmental and labor issues are shown through the eyes of the local people. Indeed, many of the actors involved in the movie are non-professionals living in the area where the story is set. At the premiere press conference, Simón argued that when the extensive research for the movie began, she realized that there is not much hope for the small farmers’ families of Catalonia. They are tired, sales are difficult, and the weather is unpredictable due to climate change. So, there is an actual crisis affecting this land.

This is what Alcarràs is all about. And no one other than the real people struggling could tell this story better.

The film team, the Artistic Director and the Executive Director of the Berlin International Film Festival on the Red Carpet before the premiere. Image courtesy of Berlinale.
The movie team, Artistic Director, and Executive Director of the Berlin International Film Festival. Image courtesy of Berlinale.

Carla Simón always looks for naturalism in acting. Therefore, she wanted the movie to be played by people with a real attachment to the land. Possibly members of the same family who speak the true dialect of the region. More than seven thousand people were cast, and after finding the right people, to present themselves as a real family, they spent so much time together that they now call each other by their characters’ names, Simón claims in the treatment of Alcarràs.

The Solés has become a full-fledged family. In conclusion, Alcarràs is a tribute not only to the newborn Solé family but to all those farmers’ families who resist climate change and labor exploitation while protecting their land and traditions.