As Summer 1993 opens, children are playing in the street. One of them looks at six-year-old Frida (Laia Artegas), and asks, “Why aren’t you crying?” Is that part of the game or does Frida have reason to cry? As viewers we don’t yet know why she should cry, but when we find out we may spend much of the film wondering that ourselves.
It is the story of a young girl whose parents have died of AIDS. She is being uprooted from her home in Barcelona to live with an aunt, uncle, and younger cousin in the Catalonian countryside. It is a drastic change in her life. Her family is loving and supportive, but this is not yet her home. In some ways she is a pawn in the family tensions between her religious grandmother and her parent’s generation that has moved away from the church. But even though her family loves her, she frequently presses the limits of acceptable behavior—perhaps acting out what is going on inside her.
The generational divide over religion is one of the forces at work within Frida. Her grandmother encourages her to say the Lord’s Prayer daily and to pray to her mother who is watching over her. But as time passes, she senses that her mother is increasingly absent. Frida faces not just the grief of losing a parent, but is having to deal with the first inkling that the faith her grandparents taught her will not sustain her.
The film is based on writer-director Carla Simón’s own childhood. It is a series of vignettes, as memory often is, but there is a structure that allows us to see Frida’s struggle to come to grips with the grief within her, as well as the new family and cultural world she is in.
The rural setting makes for a beautiful backdrop that emphasizes Frida’s innocence. The sunny and seemingly carefree setting also is a contrast to the pain that Frida holds within.
This is a child’s story of a summer that marks a transition from one life to another. The depth of her loss has not really taken hold. Realizing the reality and finality of death is one of those moments when innocence is chipped away. There are moments of fun, but in much of the film Frida seems quite impassive, as if she refuses to let the emotions within her find the surface. The summer is the setting in which Frida must grow to find her new life and come to grips with the past.
Summer 1993 is Spain’s official submission for Oscar consideration.
Photos courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories