Summer 1993: All That She Wants, by David Bax
Carla Simón’s Summer 1993 is no cartoon (though it is often quite comical); it’s too undeniably and unflinchingly real for that. Yet it may occasionally remind you of Peanuts, so often does Simon keep her camera trained on her child actors with the grownups represented by partially glimpsed limbs and offscreen voices. The difference is that we understand every word the adults are saying, giving us an advantage over the young characters, who are left to piece together the way the world works and their places in it out of what they are able to interpret.
Frida (Laia Artigas) is only six years old when both of her parents die and she is moved from Barcelona to the countryside with her Aunt Marga (Bruna Cusí), her Uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) and their even younger daughter, Anna (Paula Robles). The changes of scenery and guardianship coupled with Frida’s shaky grasp on what actually led to her parents’ deaths make her a troubled, volatile girl. Simón doesn’t let us look away or sugarcoat the potential danger Frida’s churning psyche poses to herself and others. On the contrary, Summer 1993 is a delicately observed ode to patience as perhaps the only salve for pain.
Patience is the watchword for Simón’s visual and structural approach, too. Large chunks of the movie are made up of unbroken takes of Frida and Anna at play, processing and re-appropriating what their ever alert childhood senses have absorbed. These scenes often serve dual purposes, one for the characters and one for the viewers. The most memorable observes Frida and Anna playing make-believe, with Frida the tired, put-upon mom and Anna the attendant child. Frida is working through her grief for her own mother while we are learning quite a bit about what her home life was like back in Barcelona.
So soon on the heels of the revelatory The Florida Project, it’s quite a surprise to see another film so perfectly capture the complex psychology of the recreational lives of children. Yet, just like Sean Baker, Simón seems to have a preternatural gift for coaxing unselfconscious performances out of inexperienced child actors. Artigas and Robles are both award-worthy here.
Not only do we see Frida and Anna learn to be sisters, we also see the power struggle–sometimes subtle, sometimes downright vicious–their situation entails. Both are accustomed to being only children. One is older while the other has established primacy in their living space.
Simón fills her movie with queasy foreshadowing of where this competition might be leading; references to bathwater and hairdryers and other potential dangers pop up throughout. But tawdry thrills are not at the top of her agenda. You certainly may find yourself crying by the end (I did) but not for the reasons you might assume. Nothing could have prepared Frida for the sudden changes and adjustment in her life and nothing can prepare you to witness Summer 1993‘s towering compassion and humanity.