'Alcarràs': the masterpiece that sings of our land and beloved home like no other
Carla Simón's second feature film makes history with the portrait of a peasant family that sees their way of life disappear
Directed by Carla Simón. Script by Carla Simón and Arnau Vilaró. 120 minutes. Spain and Italy (2022). With Jordi Pujol Dolcet, Anna Otin and Xènia Roset In cinemas on April 29th
The first thing that is taken away from the main character's family in Alcarràs is the space of magic. The second feature film by Carla Simón starts, after a situational prologue, inside a car, an abandoned 2CV that three children have turned into their own spaceship. It is through the child's eyes that we are presented with the arrival of an external threat, a crane that will end up taking away this old junk where they played. With this beginning, Simón marks a continuity with her previous film, Summer 1993 (2017): here we also start with children as the main characters, especially a little girl, Iris (Ainet Jounou). But the director does not take long to broaden her point of view. The children are joined by a teenager, Mariona (Xènia Roset). Together they run off to find the rest of the family among the peach groves. From the beginning, we feel half way between the bucolic and a western, until we reach the family farmhouse. From the intimate, childlike and autobiographical context of Summer 1993 we move to a choral, intergenerational and almost political territory, that of a family of farmers who over the course of a summer will experience the inexorable transformation of their way of life. We find ourselves before the chronicle of the end of a whole way of understanding a collective bond with the land.
In Alcarràs, Simón expands her field of action. But she remains faithful, and even purifies it, to her practice of a neorealist cinema that privileges the commitment of truthfulness with the environment it portrays and the humanist perspective. This time the director works with more performers, and (almost) all of them are non-professionals; the shooting has been carried out in real locations, filmed without beautiful filters, and the characters speak the language of Ponent without submitting it to the standard; we hear no other music than what the protagonists sing or listen to; despite also being inspired by close experience, the story is not exactly that of any particular family, and at the same time it could be that of many. But this commitment to a naturalistic fiction where artifice is reduced to a minimum should not deceive us. It requires a lot of preparation, a great control of the mise-en-scene and an extraordinary talent to orchestrate a film like Alcarràs, which takes us into the complexity of the universe it presents from a clear, transparent and fluid point of view. And, without falling into stylisation or explicit quotation, Simón relies on a very rich range of film references ranging from John Ford to the summer langor films of Lucrecia Martel.
Although, once the film starts, Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet), the father and main person in charge of the farm, seems to become the main focus of the story, in Alcarràs the traditional hierarchies between characters are diluted. All the members of the family receive individualised treatment, everyone's reasons are explained to us. The fluctuating shooting is superb and does not always fall on the character leading the action, weaving a group portrait with the specific experiences of each of its members. Unlike in Summer 1993, there is no cathartic ending.
But in the middle of the film Iris sings for the godfather Rogelio (Josep Abad) the Cançó de pandero, the musical theme that marks the film. The little girl who has been left without a place to play her games from the beginning of the film continues to invoke magic wherever she goes. Now she turns a family play into the most exciting moment of the film, the one that best synthesises what Alcarràs makes us feel. Iris makes the historical memory that the grandfather has transmitted orally resonate in an instant that shakes collective emotion, inside and outside the screen, as no other film of our cinema had achieved so far.