Aida Vucic | 10/04/2017
Summer 1993 is the autobiographical debut of Carla Simón and unsurprising winner of the Best First Feature at the Berlinale. While the film is shot through the perspective of a six-year-old child, its story is deeply profound and heartfelt.
Our protagonist is Frida (Laia Artigas), a mischievous six-year-old, whose mother’s recent death from AIDS-related pneumonia has resulted in little Frida’s life being turned upside-down. Frida is taken to live in the countryside with her uncle, Esteve (David Verdaguer), his wife Marga (Bruna Cusi) and their daughter, Anna (Paula Robles). The family unquestionably accepts their roles as Frida’s new family, but their good nature is met with defiance from Frida who acts out in stubbornness and even cruelty towards Anna.
Simón carefully balances narrative with cinematic elements, delicately providing the audience with the necessary information while showing great restraint, lingering on scenes in the woods and faces, without the accompaniment of dialogue to propel the film forward. It’s refreshing and peaceful. Summer 1993 is distinctly not a kid’s film, but the actual audience is also unclear. It is profound, despite your age or background.
The performances from the adults are without fault, but they are incomparable to those of Lai and Paula. The pair are captivating, their interactions with one another feeling utterly genuine; something which, at times, is unnerving given the ages of these two miniature actresses.
Cinematographer Santiago Racaj stays close to his main subject; his intense close ups, lingering camera and handheld, guerrilla perspective all giving the audience the impression that they are experiencing this time as Frida would. Much like little Frida would, the camera spends inordinate amounts of time lingering; on the woods, the chickens, the pool and bedroom. Little details pop up and captivate the film, much as they do Frida. Simultaneously, we find out about Frida’s previous life, her struggles and her mother’s death all through Frida’s experience of the conversations around her. Maybe it’s a word captured while she hides under a table, or something she overhears through a window while she plays outside. It’s a stylistic choice that adds to the authenticity of the story. And while Frida may not always be able to put two and two together, the audience can pick up on little things and infer character and plot developments without the need for overt exposition. What to Frida may just be her aunt sharing an ice block with her is, to the audience, a realisation that the doctors trip she took in the morning has resulted in good news regarding her contraction of her mothers illness.
A lot of the story is told visually, which is astounding both for the efficacy with which it is done, the bravery for doing it in this day and age and the fact that this young actress has to carry most of that story in her performance. The fact that she holds up so well is testament to both her ability, and that of director Carla Simon. In this blockbuster driven world, it’s an utter pleasure to lose yourself for two hours in an extraordinarily well told piece about a small child coming to terms with the notions of loss, inevitability and family.
A beautiful, moving, introspective piece of cinema, Summer 1993 is told through a child’s eyes, but, despite the director’s relative novice, with the dexterity and skill of a master.