In the kitchen of the clan’s home, the stubborn patriarch, Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet), and his tranquil elderly father, Rogelio (Josep Abad), argue. The soil they’ve worked on since after the Spanish Civil War doesn’t belong to them but to the Pinyols, wealthy landowners who had given their word never to take it away from them. But without a contract, the Pinyol son has decided to retract that promise and install profitable solar panels.
Quimet’s sole option to remain on the land is to stop farming and take a job maintaining the new technology. It’s a tale as old as time, of how the vertiginous walk of modernity and ambition crush ancient loolivelihoods. Last year’s Maltese standout, “Luzzu,” offered a similar look at the woes of generations of fishermen in that Mediterranean nation.
Amid tableaus of sundrenched landscapes, Simón’s instinct for eliciting naturalistic performances—displayed in her feature debut “Summer 1993“—marries a remarkably stealth narrative structure that lets us into the lives of these people, collectively and individually. With every cut, new information about one of the members of this zealous household emerges in a fluid rotation. Certain sequences in the second half of this slice-of-life drama drag, but they ultimately find their course to a satisfying resolution.
For her first directorial outing, Simón took on the risk of having a child protagonist without previous acting experience. She expands on that in “Alcarràs,” obtaining lived-in depictions of everyday behavior and interactions from an entire cast of first-time actors who, almost shockingly considering their rapport, are unrelated. As with “Summer 1993,” the gamble pays off in great dividends, with Pujol Dolcet and Abad deserving the most praise.
As for the younger generation, the interest in the labor-intensive business varies. Roger (Albert Bosch), Quimet’s teenage son, feels pride in the fruits of his manual labor, so much so that his father begrudges his disinterest in school. His sister, on the other hand, Mariona (Xènia Roset), prefers to dance to modern tunes with friends. She resents the macho dynamics that both Quimet and Roger display to assert control over the family’s women.