Starring: Jordi Pujot Dolcet, Anna Otin, Xenia Roset, Albert Bosch, Ainet Jounou
Distributor: Palace Films
Runtime: 120 mins. Reviewed in Aug 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
The life of a family of peach farmers in a small village in Catalonia changes when the owner of their large estate dies and his lifetime heir decides to sell the land, suddenly threatening their livelihood.
Alcarras is a small town in Catalonia. It is a centre for agriculture, especially stone fruit. This is a portrait of life in the town, in the orchards, families, the encroachment on the land by government, developers, and the setting up of vast solar panels.
The audience spends two hours with a family – father and mother, the older son working in the orchard, the next daughter adolescent and self-conscious, and then a vigorous younger daughter who loves playing with her twin cousins and other children. The cast of the film is entirely non-professional (except for a sister of the writer-director, who plays one of the aunts). In fact, the performances seem accomplished; the whole cast playing themselves with seeming professional aplomb.
We spend a lot of time with these characters, some audiences complaining that the story is repetitious, not always involving. Other audiences were very taken with it, including the jury at the Berlin film Festival 2023 which awarded the film the top prize, the Golden Bear. For many audiences, especially those who enjoy documentaries about unfamiliar countries, they will be happy to spend these two hours in Catalonia, empathising with the characters (sometimes irritated by them), sharing the joys and the difficulties, the hard work, the picking of the fruit (and employing, when they can, some foreign fruit pickers from Africa), family life at home, the annual festival in the town. On the other hand, audiences who like dramatic momentum will perhaps want more.
The father is something of a tough patriarch. His wife is strong, gentle, supportive. The son is loyal but there is an underlying restlessness. The daughter is moody. The youngest girl vivacious and demanding. There are the twin cousins, the various in-laws, and the elderly aunts. Which means that the various generations of Catalonian life are well represented.
And the solar panels, being delivered, being laid out, the father of the family hostile, his relative an entrepreneur. And while there are scenes of joy in the village in celebration, there are also some powerful demonstration scenes against the companies, the picking of the peaches, transporting them to the city, shouts in protest, the pouring of the peaches on the road and driving over them to make the point. The other point is, of course, that with concern about climate change, the need for sun and wind for power, it means developments such as extensive solar panels to produce and channel energy. But it is disturbing at the end to see the machinery driving through the orchards, ploughing up the ground, destroying the trees.
The film offers an interesting opportunity to see and reflect on traditional families and the way they live and cope in the 21st-century but also to see the transitions in agricultural life, change for possible good, but some heartbreak in destruction.
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