Seeing the world through the eyes of the child

Paula Robles (left) and Laia Artigas in Summer 1993 (IMBD)

Summer 1993 tells the story of a six-year-old girl who is sent to the Catalan countryside to live with her uncle and his family after the death of her mother from AIDS. Source: ACOFB.

For her feature-length debut, Spanish writer-director Carla Simón has crafted an autobiographical snapshot, a naturalistic slice of life that depicts the barriers between her young protagonist and a normal life in understated, sensitive detail. While the story moves slowly and carefully, it is the honest performances that seize your attention, with its pair of young leads delivering excellent, well-rounded turns utterly devoid of self-awareness.

Frida (Laia Artigas) is packed up by her grandparents and aunts and sent to live away from the city, though not before her devout grandmother (Isabel Rocatti) can impart upon her the importance of praying for her mother in heaven.

According to her late mother’s wishes, Frida will be raised by her mother’s brother, Esteve (David Verdaguer), and his wife, Marga (Bruna Cusí), who reside on some rural acreage but work for a nearby resort. In their large but rustic farmhouse, Frida shares a bedroom with her young cousin, Anna (Paula Robles), and her adoptive parents try to settle her in to her new life quickly.

For Frida, this transition is far from easy. Unable to forget her mother and the rhythms of the city, flashes of misbehaviour begin to bubble up, little rebellions against the cruel hand dealt to her by life. Often, these flashes of mischief are directed at Anna, the most vulnerable person in her shrunken social circle, but Marga and Esteve must grapple with the consequences emotionally, wary of both Frida’s fragility and their family’s unity.

Simón’s direction draws heavily upon the hallmarks of independent cinema, favouring long and unbroken takes shot with handheld cameras and natural light. There is little in the way of a traditional narrative, with the plot flowing slowly from one relatively minor event to the next (which sometimes causes its lean runtime to feel longer). The stakes are deeply personal, and thus may not register for every audience, but Simón’s intimate portrayal of a child struggling to rebuild a sense of family should sink its hooks into most people who have experienced personal loss.

– Reviewed by Callum Ryan, ACOFB

Summer 1993: Starring Laia Artigas, Paula Robles, Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer. Directed by Carla Simón. 98 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and occasional coarse language).

FULL REVIEW

Summer 1993 (ACOFB)

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