Six-year-old Frida (Artigas) is forced to leave Barcelona and her grandparents to live with her uncle Esteve (Verdaguer) and aunt Marga (Casi) in the countryside. Although she’s welcome Frida can’t help but feel Marga resents her presence just a little, as she’s got enough going on raising four-year-old daughter Anna (Robles). This hint of resentment burrows into Frida and she begins to take it out on Anna…
In her directorial debut Carla Simón explores the world from the viewpoint of a child who has little understanding of what’s happening around her. The opening scenes frame adults in the distance, moving from room to room and just out of earshot, all the while discussing Frida’s future. Nothing is explained to Frida, nor is she consulted, and it’s only by dissecting the details presented that the viewer understands that her parents have died from a mysterious illness. Your heart goes out to her: she’s dumped in with strangers in a strange place and she’s expected to just get on with it, to go and play. When her grandparents do eventually visit Frida races down the road when they leave, pleading with them to take her. It’s an awful moment.
Simón’s style is to hint rather than clarify. At one point Frida nonchalantly takes Anna into the surrounding woods to ‘play a game’ before leaving her there. Later, a frantic search ensues and Frida, not admitting her role in the girl’s disappearance, wanders back to where she left her. It’s only now that Simón reveals, and there’s just a glimpse of this, the river right next to the spot, causing the viewer to squirm uncomfortably. And this is what Simón is after: the dangers of a situation unfolds in stages just like they would to a child.
Simón basks in the lazy summer days, allowing the camera to run while the wonderful child actors go about their day, playing games, eating, hanging out. It really taps into the idle summer vibe where the days seems to stretch on and on – fans of the easy-going 'Call Me By Your Name' should gravitate to this for this reason. But while this tone is its attraction it’s also its undoing: not a lot happens here in a rather underpowered narrative; even at a trim 93 minutes the film feels much longer.
A hymn to the fragility and adaptability of children, who are much smarter than we give them credit for, 'Summer 1993' is a tender and intimate affair but it’s not a film one will hurry back to.