An amazing feat of film making for Carla Simon.
- Alcarràs review by PC
The director, Carla Simon, has put in the groundwork for this film and it shows. She spent 6 months on her Uncle's peach farm and just as long with her non-professional cast. The result is a steady, beautiful, thought provoking film about the advances of capitalism on farming, in particular one family's realtionship to the land and each other. The performances from this non professional, unrelated cast are truly amazing. Carla Simon is certainly a talent to look out for.
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Engaging, quietly tragic rural family realist drama
- Alcarràs review by PD
Shifting from the delicate childhood memories that shaped her impressive 2017 feature debut, 'Summer 1993', Carla Simón expands her scope to take in a more extended fictional family portrait with no loss of personal investment in a stirring ensemble piece. The film is named for the village in Spain where the Catalan director’s people have cultivated peaches for generations; it’s cast with non-professional actors whose deep roots in that agrarian culture inform their flawless natural performances. The result is a heartfelt drama about the wrenching clash between traditional agriculture and industry. The prevailing mood is one of melancholy for a way of life under threat and stability abruptly upended, but this is tempered throughout by gratitude for the beauty and bounty of land whose people are no less nurtured by the soil and the sun than the orchard they tend.
Simón lulls us into a false sense of happy harmony by opening with three excitable children (their carefree, 'sod health-and-safety' existence is a delight to watch) playing a raucous spaceship game in a broken-down car, but when a crane appears to tow the wreck, we learn that the Solé clan, who have farmed the property since the Spanish Civil War, are on borrowed time, for the landowner, Pinyol, has made an agreement with an alternative energy company to replace the trees with solar panels. The ingenuous Solé patriarch, Rogelio, is still convinced that a spoken agreement with Pinyol’s ancestors seals their rights, whilst his son-in-law Cisco and his wife Nati are more pragmatic, already cozying up to Pinyol for employment and causing a rift in the family. It’s not immediately easy to figure out who’s who and clarify all the connections, but the overlapping hubbub of the dialogue and the swiftly established network of fondness and frictions make the cast entirely convincing as a tight-knit family.
The anchoring centre of the ensemble is Rogelio’s son Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet), who accepts his family’s fate with proud indignation, throwing all his energy into drawing maximum yield from the final harvest. That means leaning more on his teenage children Roger and Mariona for labour, whilst Quimet’s wife Dolors attempts with no-nonsense efficiency to keep the loving but quarrelsome family together, as does his sister Glòria. The signs of a shift away from the family’s roots are already evident in rebellious Roger, secretly cultivating cannabis plants, and the often-petulant Mariona, rehearsing a dance routine to perform at the village fiesta. But neither of the adolescents is untouched by the sobering threat of change, and the film delicately explores, without any melodrama, how the various tensions rippling through her family are not lost even on the youngest children.
The inevitability of the Solés' fate is sorrowfully indicated by the constant arrival of delivery trucks and the initial stages of solar panel installation on the land bordering the orchard; the devaluing of history is also subtlety symbolized by Pinyol’s indifference to the fact that his wealthy family was hidden and protected during the war by the Solés. Rendered powerless to stop the cruel hand of progress, the family acknowledges their suddenly uncertain future while drawing whatever fortification they can from the land that’s nourished them. This is most evident in bearish Quimet, played by Dolcet with the infectious warmth and coiled strength of an everyman type - watching him arrange snails on a grill and cover them with dried grass to be smoked and eaten at a big, jovial family lunch where everyone ends up in the pool is just one example of his appreciation for the life that has sustained them. His tears when when his impatience costs them a part of the harvest carry a real sting, whilst his exultant win in a wine-guzzling contest at the town festival gives him a moment of cathartic release, a victory in face of defeat. A beautiful, engaging, quietly-tragic piece.
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