Carla Simón • Director of Alcarràs
“In this film, it’s the men who cry”
by Marta Bałaga
- BERLINALE 2022: The kids are alright in the film by the Spanish filmmaker, but the adults are a whole other story
In her Berlinale competition title Alcarràs [+see also:
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Giovanni Pompili
film profile], Carla Simón portrays a family of farmers who are in for a rude awakening, suddenly learning that the land they viewed (and loved) as their own might be taken away for good.
Cineuropa: It’s such an unassuming story, it’s easy to miss the fact that it shows an entire world collapsing – at least for this one family.
Carla Simón: It was a difficult thing to build up, in terms of the script. It’s a film about something that we know is going to happen, so how do you play with this tension? Yes, it’s about them losing their land, but its real focus is relationships. It was fun creating this ensemble piece, seeing how every emotion a person can feel can affect somebody else.
They all deal with it in their own ways, but they don’t really discuss it. They’re experiencing it alone.
That’s the thing in big families, at least in the way I know them – sometimes we just don’t talk about things, and everything becomes more complicated. Also, it’s the harvest. It’s the busiest time of the year for farmers, so hardly the right time for lengthy conversations. They grieve silently and their journey involves accepting that this place, which is a key part of their common identity, is coming to an end.
When we realise the family don’t have any documents proving that they own this land, it seems absurd. Is this a common situation?
It doesn’t happen anymore, but in the old days, it was very much the case. This family helped their landlords during the civil war. That’s why they allowed them to cultivate their land. Gentlemen’s agreements like these were passed on from generation to generation, until someone said: “The civil war was a long time ago, maybe we should do something new.” In this particular region, however, consequences of the war persist. Even within the landscape itself, as there are all these abandoned bunkers where kids play.
The way you shot the film makes it feel as if you’re one of these kids, following everyone around.
It was important that I loved these people, as a director. It’s the best way to go about portraying someone, even when they don’t do everything right. My family grows peaches too, so it’s something very close to my heart. I wanted to show all their stories from their varying perspectives, from the inside. We had to be one with this family; when the point of view switches, we go along with it. I think it made it all feel more grounded. Very often, you get this idyllic view of rural environments, but it’s a hard job and a harsh landscape, too.
You depict solar panels as the ultimate threat, despite them being so heavily championed. Where did this idea come from?
In this particular region, there was a solar panel “boom” a few years ago. Many people cut down trees and put up solar panels instead. And then the law changed. They weren’t earning as much as they thought they would and, suddenly, there was no money. In Spain, the reputation of solar panels isn’t great, although that’s are changing again. As we were finishing the film, they were putting a lot of them up in Alcarràs! When you’re faced with a dilemma like that, when it’s a complex situation, it makes it more interesting.
You are so good with kids and I remember that from your previous work. But you choose to just let them be.
They’re looking for a new place to play, they’re the first ones to be affected by all this. Kids adapt quicker than adults, they find a new den for themselves before the adults have decided what to do. I let them be, yes, but our casting process is long. Also, having kids on set helps me to find the right tone for the actors. When there are kids, the adults don’t think about themselves, they pay attention to them.
I found it really moving when the father eventually broke down. I didn’t think you were going to go there – he’s so tough!
He knows it’s inevitable, but he’s in denial. He just focuses on harvesting and the work it involves, and it happens at the most unexpected moment. In this film, it’s the men who cry. The women try to hold it together. They accept certain dynamics, but they know when to say: “Enough.” We included a song like Patrona [lady boss] to show there’s a new generation opening these doors.
We worked on this a lot with the actor in question, who’s not actually an actor. He told me he hadn’t cried in years. When he started out, he said: “I get these headaches, I don’t know what I’m feeling.” He couldn’t work out what was happening to him. He got emotional again during the premiere [laughter]. So now he knows.
Did you decide to include the protests to underline the fact that this isn’t just about one family?
My family grows peaches and they’re still doing it. When we started this project, I said: “We need a happy ending.” But then we talked to other farming families and saw that they had no hope. So many people are leaving their land – there is no generational takeover. Not because the kids don’t want to do it, they just don’t get paid properly. There are protests every year, but they don’t get much out of it. I needed to show what agriculture is today, not what is used to be.
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