Alcarras - Carly Simon - MUBI
Credit: Mubi
by Patrick Preziosi Featured Film Streaming Scene

Alcarràs — Carla Simón

January 6, 2023

From the first frame of Alcarràs, Carla Simón alerts the viewer to the integrality of the summery Catalonian landscape of her film. Within these windswept fields and misshapen buttes resides the Solé family, modest peach farmers — partially based on the director’s own family — and played by a rugged cast of nonprofessionals. The vantage point of childhood often mingles with realism in Simón’s work, with the still-present undercurrents of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War lending a subtle historicity. Alcarràs hinges on the Solé family being evicted from their peach farm, which was given to them as a reward from the wealthy Pinyol clan, after offering their protection during the war; these sorts of displays of gratitude, enacted through any formal paperwork, are unfortunately archaic in the film’s present day.

The conflict, however earth-shattering it may read, is also somewhat ancillary, encouraging the viewer to map out the ebb and flow of relationships of this extended family rather than anticipate their final displacement. Modernity has its harbinger in an unwelcome, monstrous tractor crane in the opening shots — interrupting the play of the smaller children, whose reaction shots from behind a car’s windshield seal the Lucrecia Martel influence then and there — but work still has to continue, regardless of encroaching industrialization and the threat of deposition. The arbiters of change offer an alternative, and even if it is lucrative, it doesn’t account for the loss of an intergenerational home.

The eviction is sinuous; it doesn’t buffet the family as much as it lies in wait. So in the meantime, Simón catalogs and files the quotidian activities of a peach farm maintained by the various generations of a single family. Daniel Cajítas’ camera often begins at the center of a permutation of the ensemble, before casually attaching itself to a certain party, the latent isolation registered by quiet observation of larger events. More than once, teenagers, children, and the elderly will make their way out to the crop, standing alone amidst what’s provided for them for so long, and what may be soon repossessed. In some ways, Alcarràs resembles Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours, or at least a proletariat transposition, especially in the party scene near the end, where focus is equally dispensed amongst all participants. The Solés live with the very reminder of what they may lose, a rather poignant development, which is what makes the most relaxed of scenes also the most enjoyable, and meaningful; they convey all that the verbal disputations can’t.

However, the demands of contemporaneous realism trip up the more patient — even spiritual — pastoralism of Alcarràs. The rapport of the extended family is as warm as it is believably strained, so a few of Simón’s efforts to delineate the variety of viewpoints are unfortunately redundant, rendering characters as brief stock-types, especially the brother-in-law who tries to ingratiate himself into the Pinyols. The director’s own narrative motivations sit uneasily atop those of the characters; these are the intervals where the film, purporting to be of a documentary quality, comes off as unbearably written. But then there’s the closing shot, an image of such unceremonious perfection, and the fitful heaviness of the directorial hand is, at least to some degree, justified.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 1.