Catalan writer-director Carla Simón made waves with her stunning feature debut, Summer 1993, in 2017. The loosely autobiographical tale set in rural Catalonia served as a springboard for Simón’s sophomore work, Alcarràs, which is packaged as a little wonder, but is undoubtedly of an immense scale. After winning the biggest prize at the 2022 Berlinale (the Golden Bear), the film has been a dear favorite to moviegoers and critics alike, as reviews and box office suggest. Its gentle storytelling and the love it has for its character sets it apart from most social realism dramas portraying rural communities.
At the film’s center is a family (The Solé family) and their peach farm, at the exact moment when they are being forced to abandon their properties amidst a land dispute. Small-scale farming is already a precarious business to have, but the hustle and bustle of doing things collectively, even if that means fighting for survival, as a family, still holds value in a world of intimacy threatened by rapid modernization. Alcarràs is a village in Western Catalonia and its bucolic settings are caught in glistening, sun-drenched and warm hues by cinematographer Daniela Cajías. In line with her—still remarkably poetic!—pledge to realism, Simón worked entirely with non-professional actors to craft an intimate, beautiful film that will melt your heart and make you second guess your choices to live in a big city.
We met with Carla more than a year after Alcarràs had won the Berlinale top prize and was gaining momentum as one of the nominees for the 2023 LUX Audience award, an annual initiative put together by the European Parliament to highlight the diverse, strong voices of European cinema. The Catalan director was, as always, generous and open when discussing her process and how she looks back on it now.
Projektor: What would you say that family, land, and cinema have most in common?
Carla Simón: It was funny because, you know, when we were first preparing the film, I was turning to my uncles all the time because they cultivate peaches, they work the land. Obviously, I needed this for practical reasons and the shoot. But at some point, we discovered that making films and cultivating the land were two very similar things, or at least when you think of making independent films and working the land as a small family business.
Is this because they both require skilled work?
Yes, because both are very handcrafty jobs. As owners of the land, they have to be present for and rolling every part of the project or the process. That’s how it goes: you take care of the land, you plant the seeds, you water them, you take care of them, you make them grow little by little, and at the end, you have some fruit. This is something that’s very similar to the process of making a film, because you have to prepare it very slowly, be very present in every part of it, take care of it, make sure that it grows and grows, until you have the final product.
You also need a big crew in order to do this job, in cinema you need to have a big crew. And when you cultivate the land, you also need to have a lot of workers helping. So it has a lot of common things.
Is there something that you developed a newfound fondness for while working on or promoting Alcarràs?
Well, I think that I gained a love for the land. Because, as you know, this is my family’s business, and Alcarràs itself is my mom’s family village, even if I didn’t grow up there. So at first, I didn’t really have an attachment to the land and it was through making the film that I ended up loving this place so much. In particular, I ended up investing in it with a lot of value and appreciating what my uncles do and know even more.
That’s how it goes: you take care of the land, you plant the seeds, you water them, you take care of them, you make them grow little by little, and at the end, you have some fruit. This is something that’s very similar to the process of making a film.
Was there a particular moment of realization that struck you as special?
Yes! One day, we were all having a barbecue when, suddenly, there was a gust of wind and some of the fire flew with it. I caught myself imagining what would happen if this land got burned.
And it didn’t happen?
Nothing happened, really, but just me imagining the idea, losing this land, made me so sad. When I think about it now, it was actually a symbol of the film we were making, the situation that we were portraying there.
Cinema for you has always had an element of lived experiences, of autobiography. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems there’s a strong relationship between film and reality for you. With Alcarràs in mind, how would you describe your own relationship to cinema, if you were to use keywords, and why?
There’s something that rings true here! So, I would say, life, love, and family. “Life” because cinema is very close to my life, and I made myself live in a different way, because I make films. And the fact that I make films makes me think of and look at things in a very specific way, paying attention to details. Also because my films try to portray life. My life and films are very close to each other. The second word would be “love” because I consider filming an act of love towards the people and the places that are portrayed. And I wouldn’t be able to make films without loving what I’m filming!
And even if we touched on it already, why “family”?
Well, I say “family” because—as simple as it is—I love making films about family and also with my family. My sister [Berta Pipó who plays Glòria in Alcarràs] is an actress, she plays in my films, my brother [Ernest Pipó] is a musician and composer, he makes the music for my films. And I consider my crew also a family somehow. I like this idea, that the act of creating springs from the intimacy that family gives us.