Don’t watch the trailer for Carla Simón’s Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993). Simón’s autobiographical first feature is the kind of low-key character study that is impossible to market and, in excerpts, it can look like a cinematic shrug.
That’s unfortunate, because Summer 1993 is miraculous: a sensitive and quietly intelligent look at the life of children that never overburdens its characters with contrived plotting and alternatively never wanders off into aimless poetry. It’s not flashy, but it’s emotionally immediate.
Six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) has just lost her parents. She is sent from Barcelona to live with relatives in the Catalan countryside. Frida’s uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) is fun and permissive, presumably like his late sister. Her aunt Marga (Bruna Cusí) has to be the relatively tougher one, if only because she actively cares to set boundaries and help shape what her niece/adoptive daughter’s new life will look like. Frida’s three-year-old cousin Anna (Paula Robles) is just excited to have a new sister.
Frida has a immense amount of coping to do. On a basic level, she has to adjust to her new surroundings and her new family life. She constantly seems to be testing her aunt, to see what she can get away with. When Marga hands her a brush to fix her hair, Frida throws it out the car window. To Marga’s credit, she doesn’t respond to Frida’s misbehavior by getting loud or violent. In this case, she simply gets out of the car and hunts down her brush without another word. Marga understands that, apart from adjusting to a new day-to-day, Frida still has to process her parents’ deaths.
This layering of these different but related emotional journeys informs every aspect of the film. The performances of Artigas and Robles as the two little girls are uncanny. Their interactions have an unforced realness reminiscent of The Florida Project, as though we’re just watching documentary footage of little cousins at play. But Simón never loses sight of the subtext, revealing story subtly through the girls’ actions and attitudes. We expect this approach from seasoned actors, but it feels special and fresh to see such richness and depth presented from unselfconscious youngsters.
In the same way that I don’t recommend seeing a trailer for Summer 1993 before watching it in the theater, I’m not going to waste your time with further descriptions of events in the film. It’s beautiful, it’s touching, it’s real. Go see it!
Summer 1993 opens in New York and LA on Friday, May 25. It expands to more cities in the following weeks.
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Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.