Alcarràs might not have the deep emotional connection it strives for, but its detailed world of textured characters makes it an experience worth having.
Winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale, Carla Simón’s (Summer 1993) Alcarràs is a quiet, tender family drama, one which captures both the highs and lows of three generations of a Catalan peach-farming family. It is an intensely measured piece of work with carefully drawn characters, all equipped with flaws but also harbouring a great affection for one another. Alcarràs might not connect on the highest emotional level, but the careful craft and patient direction is highly impressive. Alcarràs is Spain’s entry for Best International Feature Film for the upcoming Academy Awards, and it would be no surprise to see it land a nomination.
The Solé family is the focus of Simón’s latest. For countless generations, they have picked the peaches from their orchard each summer, a process which not only financially sustains them but connects them to their past as well. Faced with eviction – unfortunately their grandfather’s solely verbal contract years ago doesn’t hold up in today’s world of contracts – rifts begin to develop, most notably between the middle-generation adults. The film is based on Simón’s own family, who also grow peaches in the tiny village of Alcarràs, Catalonia, and the director’s deep-rooted connection to the story is clear to see. Touching on themes of familial legacy and land cultivation, Alcarràs always remains keenly focussed on the Solé family and the land on which they work.
This rural world is impressively drawn by a strong, down-to-earth visual language. Idyllic shots of the sun-baked landscape conjure up feelings of peace and connection with the natural world; Daniela Cajias’ expert cinematography clearly situates the characters within this landscape, often enveloped by their surroundings through the use of wide shots or deep within it through intimate close-ups. Throughout Alcarràs, Simón also reminds us of the entrenched history of the land, giving it real meaning as opposed to just a superficial aesthetic.
In relation to this historical angle of heritage and legacy stands the grandfather of the family, Rogelio (Josep Abad, Letter to My Mother for My Son), who is perhaps the most interesting character in Alcarràs. Rogelio is deeply troubled by the imminent eviction and replacement of the peach orchard with solar panels, and his connection to the past feels immense, shown by slow walks through the land or his constant returning to an old friend’s fig tree. There is a true sorrow that follows Rogelio around, but also an acceptance; ironically, one of his sons, Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet), is the member of the family most in denial. Working with non-professional actors from Alcarràs allows the film to breathe and undulate with a superb realism. Each character is varied, detailed, and drawn independently, but they also coexist in this textured world through wonderful scenes of everyday life – some of the best parts of Alcarràs are these scenes of ‘mundanity’, where nothing much happens and characters throw idle chatter around.
Despite its exquisite worldbuilding and carefully drawn characters, Alcarràs ultimately falls short through lack of an emotional connection. Surprisingly, by its conclusion, you may well feel a little bit cold. The events and scenes eventually become a slightly predictable procession towards an inevitable end. Neither does it truly excel as a family drama nor a commentary on the slow erasure of traditional farming, despite still managing to be engaging on both counts. This lessens the eventual impact of Alcarràs, but the journey we take alongside the Solé family remains touching and, most importantly, palpable.
Alcarràs premiered at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival on October 9, 2022, and will be released in UK & Irish cinemas on January 6, 2023.