Rare is the movie in which every sequence has something to savour. Carla Simon’s Alcarras is that movie.
Premiered on MUBI, the winner of the top award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2022 is a masterly chronicle of a farming clan’s challenges in the face of decisions forced upon on them. Faced with the onslaught of industrial agricultural practices as well as the threat of losing the land they have tilled for generations, the Soles struggle to keep it together.
The concerns of the Catalan-language movie will be deeply familiar in India, particularly among communities whose entire lives are built around farming. The rhythms of the earth are built into the manner in which the Soles and other families like them in the titular town mark time, celebrate festivals, and define their ties with one another. Even the songs they sing, passed on from one generation to the next just as are harvesting hacks, have sprouted out of the fertile soil.
The 120-minute movie begins with a children’s game revolving around space travel. To the consternation of Iris and her cousins, a huge crane – very much of this planet and far scarier than her make-believe aliens – looms over the horizon.
The Soles might have been harvesting peaches for decades, but they have no papers to prove it. The son of the actual land owner wants to replace the peach orchards with solar panels – a more lucrative trade that ignores the efforts put in by the farmers over the years as well as the deep roots they have developed with the land.
Through the crisis, director Carla Simon – directing only her second feature – examines the tensions within the extended Sole clan. At least three generations go in different directions. The children find that even they are not exempt by the impact of the solar panels mushrooming on their horizon.
Working with an excellent cast of actors, Simon, cinematographer Daniela Cajias and editor Ana Pfaff create a profound drama in which scenes flow seamlessly from rage to calm, ordinary joys to existential despair. It’s remarkable how the actors seem to be actually related, harvesting their produce one minute or bickering in the way families tend to.
It’s epic in scale – the saga of an entire way of life that stands to be extinguished – as well as intimate in its attentiveness to the minutiae of the quotidian. The small moments – the shards that make up the mosaic of meaning, memory and community spirit – are as deeply tied up with the soil for the farmers as are the juicy peaches that hang from the trees, perhaps not forever.