Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993 in its native Catalan) takes the audience into the transformational moment of six-year-old Frida’s (Laia Artigas’) young life. After the tragic death of her mother and father, she must leave Barcelona behind for an unknown rural farm. Packing up her beloved dolls, she moves in with her Uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) and Aunt Marga (Bruna Cusí), who adopt her as a big sister to their daughter, Anna (Paula Robles). Frida’s large, doleful eyes are filled with concern every step of the journey. She stares longingly at her extended family who desperately try to support her, but somehow she can’t shake their distance and unfamiliarity. The whole family must learn to adapt to their new dynamic, but Frida appears to be a deer in the headlights – uncertain whether to bolt or stay frozen in the hope that this is merely a bad dream. As she scrambles to find her place in a new home, she begins to question if she can regain any part of what now feels lost forever.
Carla Simón’s autobiographical debut feature is a testament to the power of cinematic empathy. Presenting a child’s-eye view of the world, the film allows the viewer to experience Frida’s impressions of her first summer in the countryside. Catching snippets of conversations between adults who speak over her head, the camera stays close to the isolated protagonist; registering her every worried twitch or nervous glance, as she is repeatedly spoken about, without an invitation to respond. When the gaze is reversed, Santiago Racaj’s delicate cinematography captures Frida’s observations as an outsider in this strange milieu. Esteve’s boundless affection for Anna, and some grotesque, festival masks are initially rendered uncomfortable and distressing, but Frida gradually adjusts to her new environment, understanding how she can participate and enjoy a world that once seemed alien.
It is remarkable how successful Summer 1993 is in aligning the viewer with its youthful lead. Simón’s screenplay and direction are filled with compassion for the young orphan, even as Frida increasingly lashes out and revolts. Artigas conveys her character’s unsteady grieving process with a raw and poignant energy that recalls all of the heartache and confusion of growing up, crucially intensified by Frida’s tragic circumstances. As she pushes and tests her new family farther, her naivety and desperation are only more affecting. Yet it is through Frida’s immaturity that the film seamlessly conceals the truth of the situation; framing the narrative through her lack of understanding, and uninhibited emotional response. Any sense of drama or tension stems organically from Frida’s deepest fears and incomprehension; but Summer 1993 never feels lacking – Frida’s interior life is far too rich for that.
Summer 1993 is released in UK cinemas on 13th July