Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993), the centrepiece of the Spanish Film Festival and winner of Best First Feature at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, is a tender, slow burn of a film that will play on your mind for days.
Frida, a six-year-old orphan, goes to live with her uncle’s family in the Catalan countryside in director Carla Simon Pipó’s delicate and understated autobiographical debut.
The film opens with Frida (Laia Artigas) watching from the sidelines as the home she shared with her mother in Barcelona is packed up and her mother’s belongings parcelled out. Her loneliness and bewilderment are beautifully depicted and in these opening shots Simon Pipó sets the scene for what will be the heart of this film – a brilliant portrait of a child trying to deal with grief and find her place in a new family.
City-born and bred Frida is transplanted into the strange world of the Catalan countryside with a new family: her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer), his wife Marga (Bruna Cusí), and their four-year-old daughter Anna (Paula Robles).
Information is cleverly drip-fed, keeping viewers attentive. Both Frida’s parents have died under mysterious circumstances and the local community’s reactions to her mother’s death add to the little girl’s feelings of alienation.
Fortunately, her aunt and uncle are warm-hearted and welcoming, but Frida is trying to cope with her grief and loss while in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar family. It’s understandable that both her emotions and behaviour are a little unstable. Struggling to express her pain, she begins to act out by being cruel to Anna, causing tension and exasperation in her new parents.
One of the most powerful aspects of the film is the way the director avoids sentimentality while depicting the emotions of a child unable to deal with her trauma. The performances of the children, Laia Artigas and Paula Robles, are exceptional and completely disarming in their unaffected naturalism.
Cinematographer Santiago Racaj creates a gorgeous atmosphere of light-soaked summer days, and while the film is set in 1993, it does not feel like a period piece; the focus being firmly on Frida’s experience of this lush new landscape.
Summer 1993 is such a delicately crafted and deeply moving memoir it is astonishing that this film is Simon Pipó’s debut. The performances elicited from the two girls and the maturity with which she avoids any hint of self-indulgent sentimentality make her a directorial talent to watch.