Summer 1993 (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): That summer of Frida

Spanish film “Summer 1993”, which was selected as the Spanish entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in last year, tells its story via the limited but unadulterated viewpoint of its little young heroine. As she tries to cope with a sudden chance coming into her life, the movie provides a number of sensitive and insightful moments to be appreciated, and we are touched as observing how she gradually grows as struggling to accept that irreversible change in her life.

The story, which director/writer Carla Simón’s autobiographical story as reflected at the end of the film, begins with the opening scene which looks cheerful at first but then slowly reveals the growing sadness beneath it. Its little young heroine, a 6-year-old girl named Frida (Laia Artigas), tries to get along well with other kids, but she only finds herself cruelly treated by one of them, and then she comes to back an apartment, where she is surrounded by several adult members of her family who are concerned a lot about her welfare after her mother’s recent death. Although she wants to stay in the apartment as before, it was decided that Frida will live with her mother’s brother Esteve (David Verdaguer) and his wife Marga (Bruna Cusí), so she is soon taken to a rural region in Catalunya where Esteve and Marga have lived with their daughter Anna (Paula Robles), who is younger than Frida and instantly accepts her as her older sister.

While Frida is not so pleased about this change, her new place to live does not look that bad at least. Located outside a nearby village, Esteve and Marga’s house, which is incidentally where Simón lived with her new parents during her childhood years, provides Frida a cozy, peaceful environment, and Esteve and Marga are kind and generous to Frida although they often feel frustrated with Frida’s willful behaviors. In case of Anna, she is simply happy to have someone to play with, and we later get an amusing moment when Frida pretends to be a self-absorbed lady and Anna gladly goes along with that role-playing.

And we come to gather what happened to Frida’s dead mother as, mainly through her ears, we hear what adults around her say about her dead mother. Although they never directly mention it throughout the film, it is quite apparent to us that Frida’s mother died because of AIDS, and, as shown from a brief scene where Frida receives a medical examination at a local clinic, it is possible that Frida is a HIV carrier although she has been so far healthy for years. During one certain scene, an adult character who knows about that is visibly alarmed when Frida gets her knee injured and then bleeds a bit, but Frida does not understand much why that adult character becomes frantic.

Now this looks like a typical setup for melodrama to some of you, and there are a few scenes where Frida’s circumstance gets a little tenser, but the movie steadily maintains its slow narrative pacing as constantly staying close to Frida’s viewpoint. While she does not wholly perceive her situation, we come to focus more on what is going on around her as noticing small details and gestures observed from her surroundings, and this aspect is exemplified well by when Frida’s other family members visit to Marga and Esteve’s house. As their conversation on the table becomes a little more serious, we sense that there was some problem between Frida’s grandparents and Frida’s mother, but Frida remains oblivious to that, though she will probably reflect more on that when she grows up enough to understand more of her childhood years.

And we come to feel more of what has been silently churning inside Frida’s innocent mind. She still has not fully recovered from her mother’s death yet, and she certainly misses her mother a lot – and their apartment which is no longer her home now. She becomes more willful and stubborn as feeling more like not loved by anyone, and that certainly causes more headaches for Marga and Esteve, whose relationship becomes considerably strained as they conflict with each other on what to do with Frida.

Taking its time as usual, the movie calmly watches how things get eventually settled for Frida and others around her. After one little dramatic moment later in the story, she becomes more adjusted to her new life like any kids around her age, and she also has a sincere and honest conversation with her aunt, who gently tells her everything about the death of Frida’s mother without pulling any punch at all.

The movie depends a lot on young actress Laia Artigas, who gives a wonderful natural performance under Simón’s good direction. Artigas is effortless especially when she interacts with her fellow young actress Paula Robles, and Robles is particularly poignant when her character gives a simple but touching reply to Frida during one key scene in the film. In case of several adult performers surrounding them, they fill their respective roles as required, and Bruna Cusí and David Verdaguer give fine nuanced supporting performances while never overstepping in front of Artigas and Robles.

In conclusion, “Summer 1993”, which won the GWFF Best First Feature Award at the 67th Berlin International Film, is an engaging coming-of-age drama which understands and emphasizes a lot with its young heroine, and I enjoyed its mood and storytelling as feeling soothed from time to time. What is achieved here is rather modest, but this is a likable little film nonetheless, and you may be reminded of your own childhood years as watching it.

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