Even years of life on this cruel, indifferent orb known as Earth can’t prepare you for the all-encompassing sense of grief that strikes one after the death of a loved one. That tragic sense of loss can’t compare to how a child must feel when they’ve lost a parent, and that’s the central idea behind writer-director Carla Simón’s semi-autobiographical drama Summer 1993. Based upon her own youth, Summer 1993 is a quiet, tender character study focused on its young protagonist, her youthful existence in a state of flux following the death of her mother.
When we first see six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas), the young child is packing up the last of her posessions at her mother’s house in Barcelona. The young child had just lost her mother and father to AIDS and is now traveling to the countryside with her aunt Marga (Bruna Cusí) and uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) along with their young daughter Anna (Paula Robles). In her new household in the countryside of Catalan, Frida explores the wooded area surrounding her new home, often with Anna by her side.
As the film progresses, it’s the little moments that bring Summer 1993 to life, such as Frida accompanying her aunt to the butcher’s shop and the cause of her mother’s demise being the casually shared gossip as the meat gets sliced. None of this seems to faze young Frida too much, as the carefree nature of youth means she hasn’t quite fully processed what has happened to her parents. Simón’s film strikes a deft balance between capturing a transition through the eyes of its child lead while still presented the difficult task of the adoptive parents, and how this new member to the family creates an adjustment period for them as well.
What sticks out about Summer 1993 is its understated nature. It’s a quiet, almost passive look at grief through the eyes of youth full of low-key moments. There are few big dramatic moments that would play in the awards show reel, which means that its quiet sense to its themes of loss are all the more heartbreaking because they’re running under the surface of the characters. The two young leads anchor the film as its characters traverse a new, unknown terrain in their young lives. The adults have to navigate this fraught territory with ease, somehow respecting the loss that grips young Frida while also establishing boundaries on their niece.
Just when you think Summer 1993 might be a minor but affecting drama about loss and youth, Carla Simón save a heart-wrenching gut punch for the film’s final shot. To explain what happens would constitute a spoiler of the highest level, but it’s safe to say that it’s a chilling, memorable final moment that will stick with you well beyond the end credits of Summer 1993. In her feature film debut, Carla Simón crafts a smart, moving drama that captures the innocence of youth and heartache left behind by death.