Summer 1993 is a portrait of a child having her world upended that manages to be kind without puling punches and sad without being maudlin. It’s a great achievement for the feature debut of Spanish director Carla Simón.
The story concerns Frida (played wonderfully by Laia Artigas), a young girl sent to live with relatives in the Catalan countryside after the death of both her parents. She is only six. She is confused, sad and angry in ways that she can’t quite understand. Her new guardians, Esteve and Marga try to be understanding but are naturally tested as everyone attempts to adjust to one another.
Part of the film’s strength comes from showing events from a child’s eye view. The camera lingers on Frida in the opening moments as adults flit about, moving furniture from her home and ushering her into a car. Throughout we get striking details from her point of view. Everything from carcasses in a local, rustic butcher shop and the area around her new home are all experienced through this vantage point. We’re given limited information and slowly learn from context and overheard snippets of conversation what is going on. The film, like Frida, is more likely to focus on the lolipop than the doctor’s appointment.
Part of this eye or detail is undoubtedly due to the fact that this is autobiographical. As both writer and director, Simón is drawing from her own memory to great affect. There is warmth and a rawness to this approach. Cruelty and cuteness intermingle scene to scene as Frida plays then acts out, longing for her mother, and the well meaning but stressed adults try to settle on the best approach to take.
The performances, like the visuals, are naturalistic, especially from the young lead. Summer 1993 has a knack for creating big emotions from small gestures and moments. There’s a wonderful quietness to it.
This film is full of these moments feel grounded but vivid, like childhood memories. It’s a brilliant, small story by a filmmaker to watch.