Carla Simón

Director of ‘Alcarràs’, Golden bear at the Berlinal

“I find the stories in what is around me and what I say must really matter to me”

We interview director Carla Simón, winner of this year’s Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival

“My way of working with the actors is that we spend a lot of time working on the conflicts between the characters“

Winning the Golden Bear at the Berlinale has made Alcarràs the most anticipated Catalan film of recent times. The pre-releases in Lleida, Barcelona and Málaga have created even more anticipation for this story of a farming family from Alcarràs (Segrià), who make their last harvest of peaches before being forced to leave the land. Jordi Pujol Dolcet, Anna Otín, Xènia Roset, Albert Bosch, Ainet Jounou and Josep Abad are some of the performers in this fictional story, who were selected in special castings for non-professional actors. They give life to a story that is also the history of the peasantry of the rural Terres de Lleida region and of small family holdings threatened by an increasingly globalised world.

Was one of the goals of ‘Alcarràs’ to make people aware of what we consume?
Yes, absolutely. There’s still a little hope. It’s very difficult to change certain things, regulating fruit prices so that farmers can know what they will be paid tomorrow for the peaches that they produce today. I think that as consumers who go shopping every day, we can be more aware of that. Globalisation in what we buy and eat doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s absurd that a farmer produces a kilo of peaches for 15 cents and we end up buying it for three euros and it’s not even from here... that should make us wonder what’s going on. I’d love it if people were to go to the supermarket and ask whether the peaches are from Lleida or not after seeing the film.
What’s your relationship with farmers and how did this project come about?
My mother’s family is all from Alcarràs. My aunts and uncles grow peaches there. The idea came about when my godfather died. I was writing ’Estiu 1993’. I set out to celebrate his legacy and asked myself what would happen if those trees disappeared one day. My family still produce and I hope their children will too, but when you look around, you realise it’s difficult: more and more people are giving up, there isn’t a generational change in the sector, they’ve had enough, they don’t know what they’ll be paid. The desire to make the film came from wanting to portray this.
There’s a certain revindication of the pride in being a farmer.
Yes, in the end it’s a film that portrays the world of farming. It seems to me that it’s a very worthy profession, and even if you don’t aim to portray it, that pride and dignity comes through. They feel that way themselves. The aim of the film was to revindicate this way of family farming, which is the oldest profession on the planet, because we’ve been doing it since prehistory, although somehow it’s now disappearing.
After ’Estiu 1993’ you said that your life wouldn’t lead to more films, and yet here we are again.
’Alcarràs’ is not my personal life, but my family’s. It’s a topic that interests me. Not many things have happened to me, I can’t do ’Estiu 1993’ in every film, but I find the stories in what is around me. It’s very important to me that what I say really matters to me. I want to feel a very strong desire connected to me personally, to my interests, to my life, that leads me to explain that. My life and cinema go hand in hand.
Does this accurate portrayal of this peasant family come from the fact that you know this world very well?
Its ’partly about portraying the family. I’m obviously inspired by mine, and Arnau Vilaró, the other screenwriter, is from Bellvís, a village near Alcarràs, and he’s also from a family of farmers. Everything we wrote comes from our family experience and what we know from other families. We follow the script a lot, but the actors don’t have that perception. My way of working with the actors is that we spend a lot of time working on the relationships, weaving the conflicts between the characters. They don’t come together at rehearsals, but in couples, grandfather and granddaughter, father and son, or whatever. When we read the whole script through, I feel like they have a shared family memory and they already feel like family. After that, we rehearse the specific scenes. Then there’s another more improvised part.
Are the Dardenne brothers one of your points of reference?
I like the Dardennes. At camera level I’m not looking for the same thing, but they work a lot with non-professional actors and they’re amazing. My biggest point of reference is Italian neorealism, it’s what I feel most connected to, and in the case of this film it was what we looked to most.
Did M. Night Shyamalan, chairman of the Berlinale jury, make any comment on the film? He makes very different kinds of films.
He gave an amazing analysis of the film. He greatly valued the work behind it in general, in all aspects, both in narrative construction and in working with actors. It makes you see that when filmmakers are film lovers, they can understand any kind of film, even if they make another kind. Something important for me that the jury told me is that they were very surprised when the credits came up and they saw that all the actors had different surnames. They realised they weren’t a real family.
How did you feel about receiving the Golden Bear?
It was very exciting, it was like a kind of déjà vu. For ’Estiu 1993’ we were awarded the prize for best first film and it was the first award of the ceremony. I was sitting more or less in the same place. It was strange to me that this was the last prize. It was almost hard to believe it was happening.
Does it make your head spin a little?
I want the movie to be released. When we went to Berlin we were still finishing the final edit, because since we had shot it in the summer and to get to the Berlinale [February] we did a very fast and intense post-production. Then we went to Málaga, and it was like a whirlwind. It doesn’t make my head spin, it makes me want to start something else.

interview cinema

The link between La Segarra and Italian neorealism

“My biggest point of reference is Italian neorealism,” says Carla Simón, who was born in Barcelona in 1986. With this cinematic inspiration and the spotlight placed on her own life experiences, family and environment, the filmmaker has begun to build a career that has no foreseeable limits. Her film ’Estiu 1993’ won the prize for best first film at the 2017 Berlin film festival. Now, the same international festival has awarded her film ’Alcarràs’ the Golden Bear. No film made in Spain has won the top award at any of the major international film festivals (Cannes, Berlin and Venice) for decades. It is little wonder then that the director refers to the Berlin festival as her “cinema home”. What makes films like ’Alcarràs’ so special is that they become home for everyone: people from all over the world will get excited by and empathise with the protagonists, a family of farmers from La Segarra.

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