Directed by: Carla Simón
Distributed by: MUBI
Written by Michael Clawson
Echoes of “The Grapes of Wrath” are heard in Carla Simón’s second feature film, “Alcarràs,” a neorealist drama in which a lively, sprawling family of Catalonian peach farmers find their bucolic way of life threatened by the forces of capitalism. In an unwritten agreement that stretches back for generations, the Solé family has tilled and survived off of land owned by the wealthy Pinyol family. The deal between the two families formed as an act of reciprocation after the Solé family provided protection to the Pinyols during the Spanish Civil War. At the start of the film, the patriarch of the Pinyol family – responsible for honoring the Pinyol-Solé gentlemen’s agreement – passes away, transferring power to the next generation of Pinyols. The younger Pinyols have new priorities: for them, the good in honoring the history behind their relationship with the Solés – or even the simple humanity in allowing the Solés to carry on with their cherished lifestyle – pales in comparison to the profits the Pinyols stand to gain by repossessing the Solé’s peach orchard, scrapping it, and installing a solar panel farm.
“Alcarràs” could have been a tense drama about the clash of two families, but instead, Simón’s concern lies squarely with the Solés as they grapple with looming upheaval. In fact, you almost never even see the Pinyols. In a loose, naturalistic style (most of the cinematography is handheld), Simón spends “Alcarràs” jumping from one member of the Solé family to another, thus exploring the threat of displacement from a variety of perspectives. Simón particularly favors the young children, who are the least engaged with the details of the problem at hand, but arguably have the most to lose. While the older Solés hurriedly pluck fruit off trees before the anticipated arrival of bulldozers, a little girl and her twin cousins are free to roam the dusty, blue-skied countryside as if it were a playground. They aren’t particularly conscious of it, but their idyllic rural childhood is at stake. There are also the Solé teenagers, whose interests don’t necessarily lie in farming; the adults and their spouses, who don’t always agree on whether to embrace or reject change; and the aging Solé patriarch, who is quietly despondent about the prospect of technological progress swallowing up the pastoral existence he has known. “Alcarràs” does ultimately stretch itself thin over its numerous characters, but it retains a certain radiance through Simón’s nimble, tenderly observational direction and assured acting from its non-professional cast.