Summer 1993 (2017)

A captivating and empathetic film that captures the essence of childhood innocence and the pain of loss of parents in Childhood.

7/18/20234 min read

Laia Artigas and Paula Robles in Summer 1993
Laia Artigas and Paula Robles in Summer 1993

Catalan, Spanish,

98 minutes, 2017

Director: Carla Simon

Cast: Laia Artigas, Bruna Cusi, David Verdaguer, Paula Robles

Awards: Best First Feature film, and Winner Generations Grand Prix at the Berlin international Film Festival, 2017; Won Best Film at Malaga Film Festival, 2017, Special Jury Prize at Istanbul International Film festival,2017; Best Director at Festival of Independent Cinema, Beunos Aires, 2017

This near autobiographical masterpiece by young Spanish director Carla Simon takes the audience on an emotional journey through the eyes of a young girl who is forced to live with her uncle and aunt in rural Catalan countryside following her mother’s death in Barcelona.

Six year old Frida (Laia Artigas) leaves her Barcelona home to start living with her Aunt, Marga (Bruna Cusi) and uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) who stay in a Catalan Village. They have a three year old daughter, Anna (Paula Robles) with whom Frida has hot & cold relationship. Anna, her uncle Esteve and aunt Marga are caring folks and look after her well. However, Frida is reserved and distressed.

One of the sequences shows that she wants to play with other kids but other parents are wary of their kids playing with her. Here, the audience gets a hint that she might be infected with AIDS. A check up at the clinic lets us know that though she was pronounced healthy in Barcelona hospital, Doctors need to check here too. Young Frida finds solace in talking and praying to a small statue of Virgin Mary in the woods, close to their house. Grandparents visit does bring her joy and she is happy when they are around.

Frida’s loneliness and her insecurities lead her to hate her younger cousin Anna who escapes danger, brought upon by Frida, in a series of incidents. Though Anna remains safe, Anna’s parents are concerned. Frida overhears Marga telling Esteve that “the girl has no morals” after Anna’s hand is fractured when Frida leaves her unattended in woods. Esteve makes Marga understand the situation as Frida’s mother is Esteve’s Sister.

A weekend visit by grandparents lights up the household but as they are about to leave Frida wants to leave with them. She goes and sits in their car and Esteve has to physically remove her from the car. This angers her and she decides to leave home at night. However, she doesn’t go much far and return to panicked Uncle and aunt, telling them that she will leave in the morning as now it is very dark outside. Marga realizes the predicament and grief of Frida and sleeps with her that night.

The last sequence is poignant and is handled very skillfully by the director where young Frida asks Marga about her mother’s death and her dying moments. Marga replies patiently while preparing her books and notebooks for the school. As both the young girls are preparing to go to bed and playing, Frida, without any reason starts crying. Both, Marga and Esteve embrace her and comfort her.

The crowning glory of this film is young Laia Artigas (plays Frida) who doesn’t seem to enact a part but it feels as if we are seeing a documentary on Frida. She is so natural in all scenes that I wonder how much hard work Carla (Director) must have done before shooting. And hence credit is due to the director, Carla Simon too. Even the three year old Anna is so, so natural that I am amazed. I have seen Carla’s second feature ‘Alcarras’ in which too, kids play very important part and there too they are just superbly handled. I must say, this lady (Carla Simon) has special gift for handling kids.

The film's pacing allows the narrative to unfold organically, providing ample time to connect with the characters and understand their emotional journeys. Some viewers may find it emotionally taxing, as it unflinchingly delves into the raw emotions surrounding loss and mourning. However, this emotional weight is also what makes the film such a powerful and unforgettable experience.

About the director, Carla Simons

Born in December, 1986 in Barcelona, Carla had to leave Barcelona and stay with her uncle’s family at Garrotxa, northern Catalonia as both her parents died of AIDS when she was only six years old.

After finishing school in Catalonia, she graduated in film science from ‘Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona’ in 2009. Next year, she studied television work at Televisió de Catalunya and at the London Film School.

In London, She made a documentary ’Born Positive’ based on three Londoners who were born with AIDS. Due to the stigma attached to the disease, the stories were shot with actors miming to real voices. She then made a short film ‘Lipstick’.

However, it was her present film, her debut feature, 'Summer 1993' (Estiu 1993), that brought her widespread recognition and acclaim. Released in 2017, the film was a semi-autobiographical work that drew from Simón's own experiences as a child. This film showcased Simón's exceptional talent for capturing the essence of childhood and portraying complex emotions through the eyes of a young protagonist. The film received numerous accolades and awards internationally.

Her next film 'Alcarras' ( reviewed by this blog earlier) depicts the story of a farmer’s family based in Catalonian countryside. This film too won many awards at various International film festivals in the year 2022.