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About 25 minutes in, the weight of the pain in the deceptively balmy Summer 1993 hits like a rock finally settling on a shallow freshwater floor. The perspective of Carla Simón’s autobiographical drama is purposefully limited, even at times myopic, framed by little orphan Frida’s (Laia Artigas) own access to the world. While the adults — her aunt Marga (Bruna Cusí) and uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer), her aunt Lola (Montse Sanz), and her grandparents (Isabel Rocatti and Fermí Reixach) — whisper about the recent death of Frida’s mother from AIDS-related causes, pain ebbs and flows throughout the film with arresting power.
Fundamentally, Summer 1993, director Simón’s debut, becomes a rumination on reconciling with one’s own attachment disorder and abandonment issues. The film confronts directly the contradictory feelings and impulses of a child who must assimilate into a new family, but Simón foregoes the bells and whistles of many other family melodramas, crafting instead an extraordinary and beautiful work of grief and memory. Frida is typical of children with attachment disorder: desperately in need of validation from loved ones yet unable to accept it, often leading her to act out. Frida often visits the statue of the Virgin Mary in the backyard, leaving things for her mother, needing assurance that she was loved by someone she now doesn’t know. There is no tidy, family-friendly ending suggesting the specter of her mother is there to love her, but Simón is so precise in depicting Frida’s gradual, if adolescent, understanding of the paradoxes of love and loss over the summer that, for us watching, her experience is as tactile as the sting of a sunburn.
Directed by Carla Simón
Opens May 25, Film Society of Lincoln Center
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