A delicate coming-of-age story set in Spain’s Catalonia region, “Summer 1993” begins in Barcelona, where the film’s elementary-school-age heroine Frida (a terrific Laia Artigas) has just lost both parents to the unspoken AIDS and is sent by her grandparents to live with her young aunt Marga (Bruna Cusi), uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer), their charming little daughter Anna (the delightful Paula Robles) and their smoke-colored cat Feldespata in the verdant countryside.
Frida is happy at first. But she misses her mother, feels abandoned and alone. After coming across a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a small, dark corner of Marga and Esteve’s country house, Frida, who is taught to recite the Our Father prayer by her grandmother, makes offerings to it in her mother’s name. Her first offering is a pack of stolen cigarettes that she knows her mother would love.
Frida also manifests some “bad seed” evoking anti-social behavior, some of which endangers Anna, who is younger, more childlike and very fond of her cousin and new surrogate sister. At the same time, the mysteries of the countryside, some of them brutal, offer strange solace and a source of morbid interest for the sad and thoughtful wide-eyed girl from the city, who doesn’t know a cabbage from a lettuce.
Written and directed by Berlin Festival best first feature award winner Carla Simon, “Summer 1993” was shot with a bobbing camera held at Frida’s POV and is a marvelous, lyrical portrait of childhood and of a child forced to endure terrible grief and loss. The film’s ending in the middle of a romp on the girls’ bed involves a sudden, simple expression of repressed emotion, and it will knock you for a loop.