Going Back To Our Roots

With the award-winning Alcarrás coming to The Whale on March 9th, we talk to its director, Carla Simón.

The first Catalan-language film to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Alcarrás is one of those films that succeeds beautifully in telling its fable without, it seems, ever breaking a sweat.

And to find out just how that was achieved, director Carla Simón digs up the film’s deep roots…

This is about place rather than plot, about the hum of everyday life rather than the death rattle of the old being pushed aside for the new. You will be moved. If you dare use your phone. Hitting The Whale on Thursday, March 9th at 8pm, trailer here, tickets here.

What are the main themes which run through Alcarràs?
On one hand, the film is a reflection on agriculture today. Many believe that the land should
belong to those who work it, and the Solé family has been farming the same fields for many
years. But they only arrived at an unofficial understanding with the owner during the Spanish
Civil War. Now a contract is worth more than any verbal agreement, and the new owner wants
them to leave. How long can tradition and change coexist in this place?

Human beings have cultivated the land in small family groups since the Neolithic. It’s the
oldest job of all time. But the truth is that the Solés’s story comes at a moment when this
way of doing agriculture is no longer sustainable. Big companies buy the land to cultivate it
extensively, the low fruit prices force the replacement of trees in exchange for higher yield
uses, and young farmers leave their homes to try to find other employment. The models
are changing, an old world is ending, and our film is a nostalgic tribute to the last families of
farmers who still resist. Despite the bad auguries, I hope ecological agriculture will be the
bright tomorrow for those who want to keep cultivating the land in small groups.

This is a reflection on the need for adaptation, as we portray the last days of a universe that
its inhabitants believed to be eternal. It’s also a reflection on the lack of communication
between family members, and how sometimes everything would be easier if we said out
loud what we think and how we feel. I often think of Alcarràs as an action movie. There are no
explosions, gunfights, or spectacular special effects, but the characters live on an emotional
roller coaster that shakes up their relationships.

How did you come up with the idea of this film originally?
My uncles cultivate peaches in Alcarràs. They did it together with my grandfather but he died
a few years ago. I spent all my Christmas and summer holidays on their land. Everything lived
and shared in this place has a huge emotional value to my family. Suddenly, I felt the need
to portray this place, its light, its trees and fields, its people, their faces, the toughness of
their job, the heat in the summer… I feel it has a huge cinematic value. A last harvest on this
family’s land was a good set up to talk about a world that is about to end.

Alcarràs tells the story of a large family of farmers. Why is this subject so inspiring to you?
My main source of inspiration is my big family; they’re a bottomless source of stories. We
very often get together, and I find myself surrounded by grandparents, parents, uncles,
aunts, cousins, siblings… My life has always been full of people. This film was conceived as
an ensemble piece due to my desire to portray what it is to be part of a huge family. Crossed
dialogues, opposed energies, chaos, small but meaningful gestures, emotional domino
effects… Everyone has their own axe to grind, but they all need to find a way to live together.

Why did you choose to work with non-professional actors?
I always look for naturalism in actors. I think the closer the actors are to the characters they
play, the more truthful they are. I wanted this film to be played by farmers who work the
land, who can understand the idea of losing it. Most of the people of the area of Alcarràs are
farmers or come from farmers’ families. I was sure we could find good actors amongst them.
Moreover, there are children and teenagers in the cast; they were always going to be natural
actors.

Apart from that, this region of Spain speaks a very specific Catalan dialect. There aren’t
many actors from the area, and to portray this place faithfully, it was important to respect its
language.

To find our actors, we went to every village fair (this was before COVID) to invite everyone who
might fit into our cast to auditions. We saw more than 9,000 people. I was hoping to cast
some members of the same family, but this didn’t happen, every member of the Solé family
comes from a different village. So we spent a lot of time together, improvising moments in
order to build their relationships.

Your film takes place in Alcarràs, a municipality located in Catalonia, in Spain. Although the
setting is very specific, what is universal about your story?
We all have family, all of us can relate to family stories. In the end, you don’t choose your
family: you are born into it. That is why family relationships are so complex and deep, so full
of contradictions and so unconditional at the same time. Also, agriculture is something that
affects us all; it’s what we get to eat every day. Thinking about who provides us with food
and how they do it is something we should all do. Structurally, the replacement of traditional
farming by the agricultural industry is a world-wide phenomenon.

Carla Simón’s Alcarras hits The Whale’s big screen on Thursday, March 9th at 8pm. Tickets here: https://whaletheatre.ticketsolve.com/ticketbooth/shows/873632693

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