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November 08, 2022

Denver Film Festival - Alcarras


Carla Simon - 2022

Carla Simon's parents both died when the filmmaker was six years old. That event inspired her partially autobiographical debut feature, Summer 1993. Alcarras is set in present day Catalonia, at a peach farm. While the cast is an ensemble of non-professionals, it is little Ainet Jounou, seven years old at the time of production, who would seem to be the stand-in for Simon. As Iris, the youngest daughter of the farming family, Miss Jounou takes commands the screen with her combination of a vivid imagination, naivety, and total conviction. While the film takes place in the present, it is the past that informs the current disruptions of the family.

The peach farm is on land that was given as a gift to the Sole family in appreciation for protection to the landowner's family in World War II. The Sole family ownership was based on a verbal understanding passed through two generations. The grandson, Pinyol, has sent the Sole family a letter stating they are to vacate at the end of the harvest. Even with farming at a financial loss, the father, Quimet insists that the family will stay. Pinyol plans to set up fields of solar panels from his factory. On a larger scale, Simon is looking at a way of life and culture being threatened by industrialization.

The film switches between incidents involving different family members, with Iris capturing attention with her verve. She is the first one we see, using a derelict Volkswagen Beetle as a space ship, fighting aliens with her two younger twin cousins, two boys who fully follow her around. Later, one of the boys is stuck in the raised shovel of a large crane. Iris insists that the buttons of the crane magically acted on their own. Occasionally Iris becomes self-absorbed, oblivious to the annoyance created by her tuneless playing of a toy recorder. Even if she is unaware of the meaning at this time, Iris also carries on the political heritage of Catalonia, singing a workers' protest song learned from her grandfather. Based on an interview about her intentions, Simon does not quite achieve her aim of providing a mixed image of the two main adversaries - there is greater sympathy for Quimet in spite of his stubbornness to remain a farmer, even with the offer to stay on the farm by maintaining the solar panels, while Pinyol comes across as an unfeeling businessman, even if his business is beneficial.

As she did in Summer 1993, Simon shot the film in Catalan. Local inhabitants of Alcarras were also part of the cast. Simon also grew up on a peach farm belonging to two uncles. It is significant that Simon makes her films in Catalan rather than standard Spanish as it goes beyond mere authenticity. Alcarras is Spain's entry for the International Feature Oscar. Last February, it won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Even with some of its specificity, there are also some elements that remind us that family run farms in industrialized countries share similar issues.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 8, 2022 06:07 AM