Original Name: Estiu 1993
Director: Carla Simón
Runtime: 97 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5897636/
Carla Simón: Enrolled at the London Film School where she directed Born Positive and Lipstick, both screening at numerous international film festivals. Las Pequeñas Cosas (Those Little Things) is her graduation film for which she received a Distinction.
“It’s my history. My mother died of AIDS when I was six years old. My father had died before. And the summer of 1993 was the first that I spent with my new family. And it was also important to keep the context because of all that happened with AIDS in Spain. It is also the time of my childhood and I have sweet memories of it and I wanted to translate them. We shot in the area where I was raised. There is a moment when I don’t know what is memory and what I have invented”
I approached Summer 1993 thinking it’s a movie about a 5 year old kid coping with the death of her parents, and in parts the film deals with it, it was never the main focus of this Catalan-set film. It’s a film that more concern about her adjusting with the new life, while at the same time never forgets that Frida (played marvouslly by Laia Artigas) was still a child who still tries to make sense of what’s going on around her. The movie approaches this tale in a slice-of-life format, and those raw emotions and heavy topic are purposely buried underneath the ground. The cause of her Mother’s death, for example, is never addressed directly, as if it’s a taboo subject that better left unmentioned. It’s a remarkable way to approach this story, considered how autobiographical tale usually dips into soapiness and self-indulgent. In fact, this is Carla Simon’s own story down to the T, not only this was exactly what happened to her when she was 5. The shooting location is the place she lived at the time as well. You can see the love and the eye for extra details in the setting, from their own festival to her secret place that has Mary statue.
Summer 1993 is ultimately a story through the perspective of a child, but with the understand and empathy of an adult. You can consistently see these two qualities running simultaneously during its runtime. The tone is that of a children’s show, with Frida is always on the centre of the screen. Then we have her foster family compose of her uncle, his wife and their toddler girl who do everything they can to live in harmony with Frida. And that goes for both side. Like every kid, her concern is not about grieving; she’s too young to know any of that. Instead, it’s about her enjoying her days and behaving as a kid, while at the same time these deeper emotions still seep through her like an oil sinks through a plain paper. She misses her mother, but she’s incapable of expressing that. Sometimes she let her frustration out to her sister, sometimes she feels like a stranger to the new family. Those scenes play out subtly, it’s more of a suggestion through their look and gestures than being a central of emotional conflicts. In fact, if there’s a usual complain of this feature, it’s the lack if heightened drama. That’s a criticism I don’t agree with, however, given that this film is designed (but not constructed) like a memory from a young girl’s point of view. There’s a sense of wonder everywhere in that world.
Carla Simon asserts that her main message for Summer 1993 is that the adults need to talk to the kid about death, because as cruel as it is, they can still able to understand death. The adults in the picture, likewise, treat this issue with total respect. Most notably is her uncle (David Verdaguer) and his wife (Bruna Cusi), who go through many different troubles of raising her as their own child, yet never give up or let out their frustration. There’s a key scene near the end of the movie, when Frida confronts her aunt about her own Mom and she handles those questions in the best possible way. This scene marks the first time Frida tackles those feeling bottled inside her and she’s clearly struggle to make sense of it, and it could be as easily for an adult to just dismisses those questions with “you’ll understand when you get older”. Yet, her aunt takes her struggle seriously and it’s the best way to let their kid experiencing it instead of locking it away. The respect for the kid’s perspective isn’t restricted only to the story, but also in the way Simon believes in her child actresses. There are many long, unbroken scenes with the two kids as the center, and it doesn’t feel like they’re acting at all. The adults are all fine by all mean but it’s the children (Laia Artigas and Paula Robles as Anna) who are the heart and soul and they carry the movie wonderfully. Summer 1993 draws a right balance between the wonderful time of a kid who coping with the death of her parents by refusing to go to the usual melodramatic route, but always respect their innocent point of view. I know that this film is the one that I’ll keep thinking back for months to come.