PÖFF: Summer 1993

It might be with a child’s eyes that "Summer 1993" relates the efforts of a six year-old trying to cope with grief, but it is with maturity, empathy and heartfelt emotion that it conveys the uncertain reality that follows. Catalan director Carla Simon’s debut is both tender and determined as it relates a tale of a young orphan trying to fit in with a new family.

Death, life and the tumult of those placed between the two extremes are Frida’s daily concern — or, they would be if she was any older or more experienced in anything other than being a child. The wise-beyond-her-years Frida knows that she wants something other than a struggling existence in the shadow of grief, largely pretending that all is well at her new home with her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer), aunt Marga (Bruna Cusi) and toddler cousin Anna (Paula Robles), while letting her true feelings seep out when she’s alone. While her extreme youth isn’t a cure for an identity-redefining loss, it does help Frida tackle her situation with a practical and resilient outlook.

That perception — peering at everything in sight with a clear but questioning gaze that constantly holds the viewer’s attention — gives "Summer 1993" its strength. Understanding and depicting the result when the innocent are forced to face life’s difficulties helps the film become more than just a period-set rites of passage. All of those aspects may remain present, but it’s how they’re expressed, rather than the plot mechanics they’re couched in, that matters and proves so memorable here.

Sarah Ward, Screen International