Catalan film prize highlights European Parliament hypocrisy over use of ‘non-official’ languages
The European Parliament has shortlisted a film entirely in Catalan for a prestigious award – despite the fact the language can’t be spoken in the European Parliament under rules which also prevented the use of Welsh.
Alcarràs, the story of a family of fruit farmers struggling to maintain their way of life in the Catalan countryside, is one of five films shortlisted for the LUX Audience Award and was screened at the European Parliament in Brussels last night as part of the competition.
The film has already won the first prize at the Berlin Film Festival and its success has turned the spotlight back on a European Parliament decision not to allow the translation of non-official EU languages during its debates.
“We’re so happy that Alcarràs is in the final five,” said Catalan MEP Diana Riba, who sits on the European Parliament’s culture committee.
“Film is one of the windows on different realities and in this case the agriculture in Catalonia, not only for the language but the type of life that we have in this part of Catalonia.
“It’s a good opportunity to show Catalonia and the language. It’s a good opportunity to show that we are more than 10 million people speaking this language and it’s not official.”
The success of the film has coincided with a request by the Spanish government for the European Parliament to allow the use of Catalan, Basque and Galician during its plenary sessions – one of the key agreements made during talks between Madrid and Barcelona to ease tensions following the 2017 independence referendum.
It comes almost two decades after the European Parliament turned down a similar request over fears of the “risk of creating a precedent and of receiving similar requests concerning other non-official languages used in the EU Member States”, such as Welsh.
The interest Alcarràs has generated in the Catalan language, which is reminiscent of the role Hedd Wyn’s Oscar nomination played for the Welsh language, isn’t the only resonance the film has with Wales.
The portrait of a family fighting against the odds to survive through farming will be a familiar one to many, particularly because of its authenticity.
Rather than using professional actors, director Carla Simón chose ordinary people from the area surrounding the village of Alcarràs in the Lleida region of Catalonia – including those with real lived experience of the problems faced by the family in the film.
In one scene, the family’s father, Quimet, takes part in a protest by farmers over the low prices being paid for their fruit. The role was played by Jordi Pujol Dolcet, who was first spotted by Simón’s casting team at a protest about the price of fruit.
“People don’t want to stop farming,” Pujol Dolcet told Nation.Cymru. “To live in a village and be able to live from the land, we’re fortunate to do that. But in the end everything is business.
“If the business ruins you, you’ve got to stop and do something else. That’s my case, I’m still a farmer but it’s more like a hobby. Before we used to produce kilo after kilo.
“I’ve been demonstrating for 25 years and it hasn’t worked. On the contrary, every day it’s become worse.”
In fact, Pujol Dolcet didn’t leap at the once in a lifetime invitation to be a film star because he was concerned about how his way of life would be portrayed.
“I didn’t want to do the film at the beginning because when you see farmers and rural areas on the TV, it’s always bad. We’re contaminating, or treating badly [animals].
“It’s always like that and I didn’t want to contribute to something that had never seen agriculture positively.”
But he says the film has turned out to be an “ambassador” for Catalonia’s rural areas as well as its language.
His co-star, Ana Otin, is a nursery school teacher who was cast to play the part of the family’s mother after the director saw her in a promotional video for a gym in her hometown, which is 15 minutes from Alcarràs.
“I think this film is making people think again about these little questions everyone has inside their head [about food],” she told Nation.Cymru.
“After you’ve watched the film you spend a week with a knot in your stomach wondering what happened to that family.
“Maybe you’re peeling a tomato to put in your salad and you say to yourself, maybe next time I buy tomatoes I’ll check where they come from to see if they are from the area.”
“The fact that all of Europe understood the film even though it’s in Catalan shows it’s a message that’s familiar to everyone.”
While the film addresses its audience in a universal language, the decision to use Catalan – and a dialect of it little heard in domestic let alone international media – is important.
“I think that Carla [Simón] was conscious that it would be important for the language,” added Otin. “You know why, because she made the film in the dialect of Lleida.”
“The accent is very different. What Carla wanted to do was to put Lleida on the map, it’s culture, rural areas, types of language and the types of people.
“She wanted to make a film that was authentic. She’s giving a voice to things that haven’t been heard until now.”
The European Parliament will announce the winner of its film prize at its plenary session in June.
It appears unlikely the language of Alcarràs will be permitted in the Parliament by that time.
A European Parliament spokesperson said the request for translation to be provided for Catalan, along with Basque and Galician, was being studied by its services before a decision could be taken by its bureau.
They pointed out that citizens speaking co-official languages such as Catalan, and formerly Welsh, have been able to conduct written correspondence with the European Parliament since 2006.
They rejected the suggestion it would be ironic if a film in a language that can’t be used in the European Parliament were to win the film prize of the European Parliament.
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