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In Review: Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993)

Director: Clara Simón

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This autobiographical debut feature from writer and director Clara Simón is a collected set of memories, picked from her own experience of losing her parents - due to complications from HIV - when she was a child in Barcelona. It’s a starkly intimate view of the events; she has placed us, both in terms of narrative input and camera angles, at the level of six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas). Alongside cinematographer Santiago Racaj, they have created a child’s world where adults wonder in and out of shot and the thread of events must be put together from Frida’s point of view. 

It’s a strange and almost isolated place to spend an hour and a half. And, considering her recent trauma, it’s not particularly pleasant, either. However, what is evident is how Simón has successfully managed to recreate a very real childhood experience. This success is achieved mainly by the startlingly naturalistic scenes involving the children. It’s as if the camera is simply not there. We could be sat observing a real family, unnoticed. 

And so we follow Frida as she gets to grips with her new life under the care of her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) and aunt Marga (Bruna Cusí). It’s not long until she begins to overhear the comments from others in the village concerning the nature of her mother’s death: ‘Was it pneumonia her mother died from? I thought it was something else.’ One of the unique strengths of Summer 1993 is that in moments like these, and because we are spending so much time at Frida’s level, you find yourself wanting to interrupt the conversation and tell the characters not to be so naive to think the children won’t hear, and if they do that they won’t understand. It’s a reminder of just how observant and perceptive children are. 

There’s a wonderfully astute scene where Frida and her younger cousin, Anna (Paula Robles) play together outside. Frida is dressed as a mother, smoking a fake cigarette and ordering food and Anna is pottering around trying to please her. Simón not only uses this to give us a glimpse into how Frida, as a child, is coming to terms with the death of her mother but also as a way of giving the audience clues about their relationship and her illness. The subtle interplay between the two young girls continues throughout -sometimes becoming mean-spirited and causing tension between the other family members.

This film could only have been made by someone who lived through it - it’s too nuanced and acutely observed to be otherwise. There’s also a sense that perhaps Simón created this as a cathartic experience, to understand and reprocess the deeply affecting emotions that came at such an early stage of her life. SB