Carla Simón’s latest film “Alcarràs”, which was recently selected as the Spanish entry for Best International Film Oscar, is an intimate family drama mixed with some social commentary. As leisurely rolling along with its various main characters under its vivid summer atmosphere, the movie effortlessly generates one genuine human moment after another, and, around the time when it eventually arrives at its very last scene, we come to understand care about its main characters more than expected.
The story is mainly set in one big peach orchard located in Alcarràs, Catalonia in Spain. It belongs to one big family living there, and things look all right as we watch three kids innocently playing together in an abandoned car outside, but the mood is soon changed as the movie shifts its focus to what the adult members of the family are facing right now. Although they have been allowed to live and earn their living at the orchard for many years thanks to an old verbal deal between their old patriarch and their previous landlord in the past, the new landlord, who is the son of their previous landlord, is now going to use all of the orchard for his solar panel business, and the family becomes quite frustrated as realizing that there is no way to stop this sudden disagreeable change.
Anyway, the time for peach harvest has come, and Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet), who has been the de facto leader of his family business instead of his aging father, and several other family members start to work on those peach trees of their orchard. While they harvest lots of peaches as usual, the mood becomes a bit more cheerful than before, but Quimet and other adult members of the family know too well how things have been not so go for them and other orchard farmers out there. They and many other local orchard farmers have supplied their peaches to some big local supermarket company, and the company has unfairly demanded them to sell peaches at a lower price than they wanted. As a result, many of local orchard farmers begin to consider quitting their business and then selling their land, but Quimet adamantly tries to keep going even though he and his family will have to let their orchard go regardless of how much they harvest this year.
And that is why the current landlord’s recent offer looks like a good alternative for some of Quimet’s family members. Because they can still live in their house in the middle of the orchard as they legally own it, the current landlord suggests that they can instead take care of those solar panels which will replace those peach trees sooner or later. At one point, Quimet’s wife attempts a bit of sensible persuasion on her husband, but Quimet remains stubborn as before, and there is a little amusing moment when he lashes out at a small solar panel installed in their residence.
Meanwhile, the screenplay by Simón and her co-writer Arnau Vilaró also pays some attention to the kids of Quimet and one of Quimet’s younger sisters. Often oblivious to what is happening around her, Quimet’s little daughter Iris (Ainet Jounou) always looks for any opportunity for fun along with her twin cousins, and this sometimes annoys Quimet a lot, but he usually tolerates them nonetheless just like his aging father and the other adults in the family. At one point, the kids hold a little entertainment show for the whole family, and the other family members sincerely encourage them to do more, especially when Iris sings a song which her loving grandfather taught before.
In case of Quimet’s two older kids, they have some small issues behind their back. Although his father frequently tells him to study more instead of working outside, Roger (Albert Bosch) is more interested in orchard farming, and he even has a little private spot in the orchard where he secretly grows a certain kind of plant of which his father will not approve at all. While usually occupied with her preparation for the upcoming dance competition, Glòria (Berta Pipó) becomes more aware of the growing conflict between her father and her aunt, and that eventually leads to one petulant moment of defiance later in the story.
Due to its slow pacing and free-flowing narrative, you may become a bit impatient from time to time, but the movie will gradually immerse you into its vibrant ambiance once you go along with that. Thanks to cinematographer Daniela Cajías, the movie is constantly filled with palpable local atmosphere, and that is particularly exemplified well by the sequence involved with a local festival attended by the main characters and many other local people. Although it will take some time for you to discern the relationships among its main characters, all of these characters will eventually come to you as real living people you will not forget easily, and the same thing can be said about a few immigrant workers at the fringe of the story.
The main cast members in the film, who are mostly non-professional local performers carefully selected via a long period of audition before the production, are uniformly good in their unadorned ensemble acting. While Jordi Pujol Dolcet is the most prominent one in the bunch, the rest of them are also wonderful in their respective parts, and young performer Ainet Jounou often steals the show with her irrepressible spirit.
Overall, “Alcarràs”, which deservedly won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival early in this year, is another commendable work from Simón, who previously drew my interest with her enjoyable debut feature film “Summer 1993” (2017). With “Alcarràs”, she surely demonstrates again that she is a talented filmmaker with her own distinctive style and touches, and I will certainly look forward to watching whatever will come next from her.
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