An extraordinary portrait of a child gradually coming to terms with her loss and ensuing life, “Summer 1993” has been written and directed by the talented Carla Simón based on her own autobiographical experiences. The film is a triumph of delicacy as we follow the fate of six-year-old Frida, embodied to perfection by Laia Artigas, whose life in Barcelona has been disrupted by events she is too young to grasp.
Her mother has died of illness related to AIDS. She has already lost her father. Frida is sent to live with her uncle, Esteve (David Verdaguer), and aunt, Marga (Bruna Cusi), in the country, where she also acquires a younger playmate, the four-year-old daughter, Anna (Paula Robles) of her relatives. Frida, we see, is also subject to testing to be sure she doesn’t carry the virus that afflicted her mother.
Frida is obviously deeply hurt by the parental loss and being uprooted, yet she is too young to express her feelings, reflected in unruly behavior that makes her a difficult child to handle. She even chillingly endangers the life of her younger cousin, a way of venting her anger. Her uncle and aunt do their best to make a loving and safe home for her, but her quiet rebellion persists and she wants to go back to Barcelona.
The beauty of the film, as written, directed and acted, is the step by step subtle manner in which we see Frida’s feelings evolve. There is a quiet build-up to the critical moment when she can at last burst into tears that unleash her deeply repressed emotions. The film ends with no big dramatic flourish, but with observing the process by which she can presumably move on with her young life because she has been able to admit and begin to come to grips with the deep pain that she has been carrying within her.
Filmmaker Simón merits praise for the way in which the film has been constructed and for the performance she elicits from Laia. “Summer 1993” touches one’s heart with its perceptions and simplicity, and looms as among the year’s finest films thus far. An Oscilloscope Laboratories release. Reviewed May 25, 2018.