The film Alcarràs opens with three young children playing in a decrepit sedan abandoned in an open field in the Catalan countryside, the car offering them shelter from the hot summer sun. So when a crew of construction workers comes to tow the junker away, the outraged children run home to share their misfortune with their parents, only to be quickly rebuffed. The adults, after all, have more important matters to deal with, namely the encroachment of a solar panel development on their peach farm. But the themes introduced in that first scene — transition, ownership, and the unintended consequences of “progress” — continue to haunt the characters throughout this strikingly beautiful film.
Alcarràs follows the Solé family, who have been working the same plot of land for generations. The property, however, is technically not theirs: It was gifted to them long ago by word of mouth. Without a legal document to prove their ownership, the peach orchards will be torn down by the end of the summer — and with them the only way of life that the family has ever known.
The film, which won the Golden Bear award at the Berlinale and was selected to be Spain’s 2023 Academy Awards submission, has the organic, unhurried quality for which director Carla Simón is known. Like her 2017 debut feature Summer, 1993, it is set in the Catalan region of Spain where she was raised and is powered by a particular sense of local knowledge, an understanding of both the pleasures and anxieties of rural life.
Played by a cast of non-professional actors, many of them from local farming families themselves, the film’s unvarnished style closely resembles that of a documentary, transporting the audience into the fields right alongside the characters. The result is so compelling you can almost smell the fruit and the yellow earth of the doomed peach orchard. This naturalistic storytelling approach offers a refreshing perspective on small-scale farm life at a time when the internet is brimming with idealized photos of sun-drenched solar developments promising a clean energy future.
At just around two hours, Alcarràs does not follow a straightforward narrative, which can make some scenes feel redundant, but there is something to appreciate in the way the film’s pacing mirrors agrarian life. At times, it passes slowly, with each day built around the rise and fall of the sun and the unrelenting task of picking the harvest.
Despite the painful uncertainty of what lies beyond those long days of field work, the film achieves a sort of levity, buoyed by the games of children and small moments of tenderness: the father, Quimet, drunkenly laughing at his sister for claiming to have spotted a UFO, the young cousins putting on a musical number at home, the teenage son and daughter playing a prank on the landowner who plans to tear down the farm.