A lovely and sensitive Spanish film about an orphaned six-year-old girl who has to cope with her mother’s death and adjusting to a new life. Not counting visits to the Astor Theatre, I haven’t been to the cinema in (yikes) over four months, so this was a nice way to break the drought.
In the opening scenes, little curly-haired Frida watches on silently as the adults around her pack up her home in Barcelona. Though her family members treat her with warm affection when they pause to give her attention, there’s a lingering sense of loneliness and isolation about the girl. Frida’s mother just died (the attentive viewer can put together the details of her death from the morsels shared by the adults), and now she’s going to live in the countryside with her uncle, his wife and their four-year-old daughter.
Frida’s family, who are intent on treating her as their daughter rather than niece, are a kind and caring couple, and cherubic Anna is a sweet and pliant younger sister. But Frida, with her unprocessed trauma and acute sense of displacement, is a disruptive child, given to acting out, petulance, and occasional nasty behaviour towards Anna.
Though there is a gentle character arc over the course of the lazy, sun-drenched summer, the movie is mostly plotless and episodic, and the more dramatic tangents don’t go where they probably would in a different kind of film – in a sense, the worst thing in Frida’s life has already happened before the movie began. Summer 1993 is more about immersing the viewer into the world and emotions of Frida, and does a wonderful job capturing the feel of childhood and its helplessness. There is a whole new world for Frida to adjust to, with its opportunities for fun adventures as well as alien rhythms, and new familial relationships to negotiate. It’s all observed with great delicacy and the lack of any treacly sentimentality, and director Carla Simón gets naturalistic and unaffected performances out of her two young actors. There were many times when the film pulled on the vivid fragments of my own childhood memories; it felt so authentic I wasn’t surprised to find out that it’s in fact autobiographical.