Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Alcarràs is a film about family, and about the end of one era in the countryside and the start of a new one. Contrasting tradition and modernity, this much-anticipated film – opening in cinemas on April 29 – takes its name from the town in Lleida where it is set. We talked about all this with director, Carla Simón (Barcelona, 1986), as well as her reflections on her debut film, Summer 1993 (2017), directing non-professional actors, emotions, and even motherhood.
In times like the present, of war, conflict, confrontation and violence, could Alcarràs become a symbol of peace, reconciliation and dialogue, and an invitation to always keep looking forward?
If only. That would be great, wouldn’t it? The film may not have a very optimistic message when it comes to farming, but it does have a very positive one when it comes to family. Especially in the wake of the pandemic. The message is that the love of a family can heal many things.
Alcarràs is already one of the films of the year as far as the critics go. From this Friday, which could also be the case when it comes to the viewing public. Are you nervous?
A little bit. I can’t wait for it to belong to the people, to cinemagoers. It has seemed like ages between the Berlin Film Festival and the cinema premiere. I really hope it lives up to the public’s expectations.
Have you kept track of how many interviews you’ve done, more or less, since the win in Berlin?
Not counting the ones with the international press in Berlin, so far there’ve been 190 interviews, or 191 counting yours. It’s mad!
When you were casting, you not only looked for non-professional actors and actresses, above all you wanted ones that made you “fall in love” with them. What a wonderful way to do the casting, it’s really delightful.
Ha, ha, well what makes you choose an actor is a little like what makes you fall in love, in the sense that you have to feel a very strong attraction towards them. Not in the sense of wanting an intimate relationship with them, but a desire to film them, to put them in front of a camera. Like when I get home after casting and think, “Oh, I can’t wait to watch what we’ve filmed again.” It happens to me very rarely but when it does, it’s a bit like love at first sight. Because you’ve seen something in that person not just on a physical level, but also spiritual, something that captivates you. Because there’s a sincerity in them that will lend itself really well to their character. In Alcarràs, that’s the case with Jordi Pujol Dolcet, who plays Quimet, the father.
That mix of his, of both the brusqueness of the farmer but also great tenderness, worked really well for me. Quimet spends the whole movie being angry, swearing, and complaining about everything, and his emotions infect the rest of his family in a negative way. So we had to include this tenderness in order that people could identify with him.
Alcarràs has a very deliberate simplicity. And, behind that simplicity, there is the opposite: painstaking editing and many hours working on the final cut.
Yes, there’s a lot of thought behind it. It’s been a very demanding film in every way, throughout the process, starting with the script, which I co-wrote with Arnau Vilaró. It was really cool that there were the two of us because there were lots of pieces to fit together, in an intertwined plot with many characters. If you changed something in one part of the story, all of a sudden there were three others that no longer worked. Add to that working with the actors and the decisions about camera placement, and finally the editing, which was like a rewrite of some aspects of the script. It was a final phase of touch-ups, finding even more connections between the characters. So all told, we’ve been on our toes all the time. No time to relax, that’s for sure.
And yet the results have the opposite effect, a relaxing one.
That’s funny, isn’t it? It may look like it was an easy movie to make, but you can’t even begin to imagine everything that went into it! With every shoot I shed kilos. Lots of them, ha ha. Although I’ve regained them now with the pregnancy.
You’ve been asked a lot about success given the incredible run Alcarràs has had in the lead-up to its release. What does success mean to you? What does it taste like? Is success overrated? Or is it something to celebrate and share?
I am savoring the success from a calmer place than was the case with Summer 1993, which, to start with, was much more intense to shoot. But, above all, I have to say that, for me, for something to be worthwhile, it must be a little bit difficult to achieve. With Summer 1993 I tasted success for the first time, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I wanted to see it through to the very end! But now, between being pregnant and having the experience of Summer 1993, I see things differently. I’m as prudent as ever, but also more relaxed. It’s like someone has waved a magic wand over the film to carry it well beyond what we had even hoped for.
Looking ahead to the next film, the third, I’m set up well now because one thing’s for sure, there won’t be more pressure on me than there was with Summer 1993 and Alcarràs. Alcarràs has given me the confidence that I can keep making films. The second film is always an acid test. Once you have reached the third one, then you can start preparing your DVD rack. When I stop making movies, what I want is to have a stack of my own DVDs at home that I’m proud of.
I’ve read and I’ve heard that Alcarràs is an upbeat movie, almost a feel-good one. But that’s not how it seems to me – it has several dramatic moments and elements of social commentary, and three of the characters are always complaining or angry. One of them you’ve already mentioned, the father, Quimet, and then there are his two oldest children, Roger and Mariona.
I don’t consider it a feel-good movie either. Life is like that, it’s multi-colored, but no matter how dramatic the situation portrayed in Alcarràs, it is still about a family with children. And when there are children involved, you have to keep things together, because, if not, you’re in serious trouble.
On the other hand, the family has a certain awareness that their way of working the land and their peach trees is coming to an end. And so they need to take advantage of that last dive into the swimming pool and that last gathering to eat snails together. There are moments of light, of joy, and also moments of drama. In a family like this, the emotions of one affect them all. Quimet’s mood has an enormous impact on his son Roger, and at one point Roger’s emotions affect Mariona, and, at another they affect Rogelio, the grandfather. There’s a kind of domino effect with emotions. It’s the emotional journey of a family bound together in the same space and facing the same crisis.
As in Summer 1993, in Alcarràs there is also a central character who is a little girl, Iris, played by Ainet Jounou, who is only just discovering the world, who laughs and is sometimes sad, and who can’t fathom certain things about adults. Does Iris represent you, just as Frida from Summer 1993 did?
She does represent me in the sense of how she plays games. Iris wants them played her way and as a child I was the same. That’s why, when I was little, they used to say: “This girl will be an actress when she grows up.” And I would say, “Or I’ll be a director.” But I have to confess that the character who is most like me is Mariona, because she is 12 years old, and I think it was at that age my interest in storytelling began. It was the time when I began to see my family with my own eyes, and to understand that adults are complex, they make mistakes and sometimes they don’t communicate. The way Mariona has of looking at her family feels very much like mine.
Let’s talk a little about money, about box office potential. One of the strengths of Alcarràs is that it speaks to several generations: from old Rogelio to little Iris, from the teenager Mariona to Dolors, the mother. That means it can appeal to varied audiences and spans various very different ages.
I hope so. It’s something we’re yet to discover because it’s only been viewed at festivals. But I’m really keen to find out how teenagers and younger kids will perceive the film.
You are expecting your first child. Apart from other aspects of child-rearing, have you already thought about what movies you want your child to see? What were your favorite films as a child?
I didn’t see many movies as a child because I lived in a house in La Garrotxa, and we watched very little TV. As such, I don’t know much about the television culture of that era. When people of my generation talk to me about things back then, I have no idea what they’re referring to. My father used to put Buster Keaton on for us, he really liked him. I also like those kinds of silent films which connect really easily with children.
Incidentally, will you slow down a bit once you give birth?
I’ll have to! The first two months you can’t do too much other than learn how to pick your baby up and look after them. I’m due to give birth on June 23, something that is very poetic because it is on that day precisely that Summer 1993 begins, ha ha. It’s Saint John’s Eve. But my mind never stops, in the sense of thinking of things and ideas. And now there’s a script underway that we need to finish. Also, after the birth, we’ll be attending a few international premieres of Alcarràs. That’s if Manel will let us and if we travel well together.