Director: Carla Simón (Spain, Italy). Year of Release: 2022
A broken down car in the middle of a field. Three kids – one girl, two identical boys in identical outfits – are playing spaceships. While they are engrossed in warding off aliens, a voice can be heard off screen telling them to get out of the car. Workmen in a digger have come to take the car away. The future can wait – the present has arrived, and it is looking grim.
The kids are from the Solé family who own the local farm. Or, it appears, they don’t. The pater familias Rogelio explains that the local big landowner Pinyol had given him ownership by word of mouth. This followed a similar deal with the previous generation after Rogelio’s father had helped hide the elder Pinyol during the Spanish Civil War. But he has no signed contract, and Pinyol has just died. His son has inherited the land and wants to develop it to build solar panels.
Alcarràs shows the different reactions of the Solé family to their last Summer on the farm before they have to give it over. One son, Quimet, is resigned. His back hurts permanently from too much farm work and he doesn’t have it in him to put up a fight. He refuses a job with the solar panels as he’s too old to learn a new trade. Quimet’s brother-in-law Cisco tries to sweet talk the Pinyols without great success. The Solé family is expected to leave the farm after the next harvest.
Not an awful lot happens in Alcarràs. People pluck fruit – there is an awful lot of fruit plucking in the film. Children of different generations wander around, generally getting in the way. As well as the tweenies of the opening scene, there are some older kids, who are helping with the harvest when their parents think they should really be studying. Roger also tries to tend to his secret cannabis farm. Mariona practises her dance moves with some mates.
And that’s about it for the opening hour. Then there’s a festival in town where Quimet wins a wine drinking contest and many of the others either dance or sulk. Around 5 minutes before the end – after nearly 2 hours, there’s a scene in which the farmers stage a protest against being priced out of their work where they crush their produce and throw crushed apples against a banner. This looks exciting for about a minute, and then peters out.
I hadn’t been really impressed by Alcarràs’s trailer, apart from a clip of the protest which looked like it might lead somewhere. But then a review towards the end of the German trailer promised “a masterwork – intimate and political”. I like intimacy and politics. Although one of the things that has been left unsaid is what sort of politics? The politics of Alcarràs are potentially complicated.
I have read a number of reactions to Alcarràs, and none has asked the question that was most obvious to me. If Rogelio’s father received land ownership for hiding Pinyol during the Spanish Civil War, who was Pinyol hiding from? Because the Spanish Civil War wasn’t a battle between two sides who were roughly as bad as each other. It was a battle between Republicans and Fascists. And most landowners were on the side of the Fascists.
This slightly alters the focus of a film that seems to be elsewhere bemoaning the effect of neoliberalism on small farmers. It’s a film which is worried about future insecurities – as we all are. But the writer could choose anything to represent the fear of the future. This is what you’re allowed to do with fiction. And what they chose was solar panels. Because if anything is endangering our sense of security, it’s environmentally friendly power.
Does it really matter that Alcarràs appears to be a film of and about the reactionary middle class? Well, not really, unless you’re trying to recommend it because of its politics. Like many petit bourgeois, the Solé family is afraid of change, which can come from any number of sources. So there is the chance that they won’t be able to make their living in the same way. This is potentially dramatically interesting.
There is also the interaction of Black migrant workers. Cisco goes into town to fins a group of Black migrants and says that because of cutbacks, he’s only able to take 3 of them. He becomes increasingly reliantly on family members, although many of these are nowhere near as productive as the migrants. This, again, has great potential, but is mentioned briefly and then dropped just as it looks like it might get interesting. It is as if the film is scared of conflict and contradiction.
Instead, there is a surfeit of cute kids who sing, wear fake moustaches and, presumably, are supposed to be just adorable. Well, yeah, if that’s the sort of thing which floats your boat. I found the kids to be at best forgettable and at worst highly irritating. There’s also a subplot where Roger and Mariona shoot a load of rabbits and leave them on Pinyol’s doorstep. But again this is treated as an afterthought, a slightly interesting anecdote which is just mentioned in passing.
I’m sure, this is once more a horses for courses thing. Alcarràs won some prize or other at the Berlinale (and I have a long track record of not getting on with Berlinale winners). There are people out there who like it. There are people who enjoy watching a languid story of people who live a different lifestyle to them doing not much at all (I’m presuming that most Berlinale judges aren’t arable farmers). Fair play to you. But can I please go and watch something else?