A Catalonian summer viewed from the perspective of a six year old girl, writer/director Carla Simón’s first feature is an autobiographical character piece with an edge of real pain and bewilderment.
Summer 1993 opens with our six year old protagonist Frida (Laia Artigas) departing Barcelona to live in a rural village with her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer), aunt Marga (Bruna Cusí) and their tiny daughter Anna (Paula Robles). When she speaks it’s obvious that her parents are dead and she can’t quite comprehend what that means, although the grown-ups around her do. Half-whispered conversations that go over Frida’s head give us hints of what happened to her mother and father, and why a sense of shame and alarm seems to follow her.
Anna has obviously been instructed to be kind to her cousin, and the children do bond, although Frida isn’t above being mean and cruel — like any unhappy kid. A sequence, for example, where she deliberately leaves Anna to get lost in the forest demonstrates that she’s no saint but, then again no one here is, children and adults alike.
This subtly handled Catalan-language film is most notable for the performances by Arrtigas and Robles, who were apparently cast after breaking into an unscripted argument while auditioning together. At times their scenes are so uncannily real that you wonder how Simón directed them; the naturalistic performances create the impression she simply outlined the scene, turned the camera on and waited patiently for them to just be kids —which is harder than it looks.
The film’s heavy use of natural light and sound, long takes and infrequent camera movement hint at a low budget, but also reflect young Frida’s perspective. Some scenes wander onward as she wastes time during endless sunny days, while others stop and start abruptly, leaving important events unclear. We suspect that Frida will only grasp what was really going on this summer in later years, where she’ll look back and wonder how she could have been so naïve. But then again, she was only six, and the big, bad world was at its biggest and baddest. It’s up to us, as adults, to try and piece it all together.