Summer 1993 (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
The experience of watching “Summer 1993” is akin to engaging in a relaxing hobby indoors as children’s screams of joy and laughter can be heard outside. It is full of life but never in an ostentatious or hackneyed way. Rather, the film inspires the viewer to look closely not on the action or plot development but rather within the the inner folds of children’s feelings and thoughts as they adjust to changes in their lives throughout the course of one summer. It is a portrait of childhood that includes the delights and discomforts of growing up just a little even when one is not ready simply because life takes an unfortunate turn.
Writer-director Carla Simón tells her autobiographical story with elegance and class. Just like the main protagonist Frida (Laia Artigas), who is about six or seven years old, the audience is kept among the fog of a mysterious illness that led to the death of the girl’s biological mother. Eventually, we are given enough clues to make an assumption about the nature of the disease… but not once is it named outright—appropriate given the time period in which the story is set, the shame that comes with the sickness, and the perspective of the story. The name of the sickness is not important to the child, only the fact that her mother is no longer around to provide, to care, to love.
An unhurried pacing is the picture’s greatest weapon—and the very element that may likely repel the casual audience. By taking its time, specifically to use time in a way that children process it, the material is able to focus on images that more commercial or mainstream works overlook or ignore on purpose. Notice there are numerous instances where we simply watch Frida and Anna (Paula Robles) engage in play, the latter being the biological daughter of Frida’s adoptive parents, Esteve (David Verdaguer) and Marga (Bruna Cusí), the former Frida’s uncle. They climb trees, play pretend, tag, take on dares. During their play, Frida’s trauma is slowly revealed to us slowly. She challenges people to the point of pushing them away, testing them to see if, like her mother, they would end up leaving, too.
There is a sadness to the material that I found to be deeply profound exactly because not once does the material feel the need to explain anything. Melodrama is avoided. Revelations are treated casually. While it may appear to be telling a children’s story on the outside, I think adults are meant to be the intended audience. It is fascinating how the camera almost avoids showing adults’ faces unless absolutely necessary, particularly during the more emotional moments. By keeping the camera low, there are times when adults look like giants. The words exchanged sound a bit muffled. We experience the story through the children’s eyes.
Those unwisely claim that the picture is boring are flat-out wrong. I think it is brave because it provides the viewer a task of looking deep within to ask why certain life events play out the way they do. Sometimes there are answers. But many more times there are only conjectures. I think this captures the essence of life quite wonderfully. It is organic and challenging in numerous ways that more mainstream dramatic works are not.