'Alcarràs': Homage to rural life in Catalonia comes to Berlinale

Director Carla Simón's second film is a tribute to family farming and features a non-professional cast

'Alcarràs' director Carla Simón at the Berlinale, February 15, 2022 (by Violeta Gumà)
'Alcarràs' director Carla Simón at the Berlinale, February 15, 2022 (by Violeta Gumà) / ACN

ACN | Berlin

February 15, 2022 02:29 PM

If this year's award season is anything to go by, Catalan cinema appears to be in rude health.

After a successful night at the 2022 Goya awards, attention now turns to the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival.

For the first time, two Catalan directors have films competing for the Golden Bear: Isaki Lacuesta's 'One Year, One Night' and Carla Simón's 'Alcarràs', which premiered at the festival on Monday and Tuesday respectively.

'Alcarràs' tells the story of a family during their last fruit harvest on a farm before the owners install solar panels. It's set in the Alcarràs countryside, outside Lleida in the west of Catalonia.

Like Simón's (b. Barcelona, 1986) first feature film (Summer 1993), the story is based on personal experience, in this case the death of her grandfather, as she explained to the Catalan News Agency (ACN) during an interview in Berlin.

"The loss of my godfather, who had always worked in the fields, made me appreciate his legacy and I wondered if those trees would really be there forever. And the answer, probably, is no," Simón says.

Her film, with a cast made up of non-professional actors, delves into the loss too of an entire way of life – small-scale family farms.

She wants it to act as a tribute to "one of the oldest jobs in human history but one that is in danger of dying out," while at the same time showing off the "cinematic value" of rural Lleida.

The director once again gravitates towards family relationships, and the clash between several generations living together. Family, she says, is both a driver of conflict and the source of "very beautiful moments" and her aim was to express "how the energy and emotions of a family move as one."

Societal changes loom large in the film. Simón describes the central dilemma of maintaining farms or repurposing land to harness renewable energy as "complex".

She also focuses on feminism, something "talked about less" in rural environments. "Of course, there are places where certain roles are still perpetuated, which I hope will start to change, but it's slower," she says.

9,000 candidates at casting

In 2019, just before the pandemic, producers went to dozens of local festivals (festa majors) in the areas of Segrià and Pla d'Urgell, looking for people they thought would be suitable to appear in the film. In the end, around 9,000 people ended up participating in the casting process.

Simón wanted to make her on-screen family as real as possible; she brought the actors together every day for about three months to "build plausible roles and relationships."

She is optimistic that, like 'Summer 1993', the audience in Berlin will appreciate 'Alcarràs'.

"Regardless of what language the actors speak, the film is about universal issues. Everyone has a family and millions of people around the world live in the countryside."