Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Carla Simón's SUMMER 1993: a fine autobiographical slice of Catalonian life

In annals of rigorously unsentimental cinema of a child working through trauma into some kind of acceptance, there are not a whole lot of examples that TrustMovies can name off the top of his head. (Forbidden Games comes to mind, but it has been so very long since I've seen that gem of a movie that it may be more sentimental that I remember, and The Two of Us, as lovely as it often is, is most definitely sentimental.) Both these films deal with World War II, and the latter with the Jewish Holocaust -- which is often the case with these movies about childhood.

What is quite different about SUMMER 1993, the new autobiographical Spanish film from Catalonia (in Catalan with English subtitles) opening this week, is that it takes place nowhere near wartime. In fact, much of the movie unfurls in the bucolic Catalonian countryside. You could hardly ask for a more gorgeous, verdant setting, and yet the trauma that our heroine, the seven-year-old Frida, must endure -- the recent death of her mother, following that of her father some time before -- is not at all placated by that beauty.

As directed and co-written (with Valentina Viso) by first-time full-length filmmaker Carla Simón (shown above), the movie is made with the kind of deceptive simplicity that seems almost off-hand and improvisational. Performances are first-rate -- the two leading children are particularly amazing: as real as you could want -- and the adults on view give beautifully calibrated performances, as well.

The two young girls are played by Laia Artigas (as the seven-year-old Frida, above, right) and Paula Robles (as the four-year-old Anna, above, left), while the two major adult roles belong to Bruna Cusí (below, left) and David Verdaguer (below, right, of 10.000 KM), as the aunt and uncle who take Frida into their family as someone as close to their own child as possible. The movie never shies away from showing Frida as a child problemed enough to create additional problems -- some minor (a comb tossed out a car window) others major (jealousy toward her little cousin) -- for herself and her new family. All this provides additional heft in keeping sentimentality at bay.

Another great strength of the movie is the manner in which Ms Simón shows us almost everything from a child's-eye view, smartly replacing the usual exposition with realistic behavior and speech. The manner in which the adult family members talk "around" things so as to protect Frida; how non-family reacts to the child's skinned and bloody knee after a small accident; the question of what caused the death of Frida's parents (those who remember the late 80s and 90s, along with drug users, hemophiliacs and the gay community, will probably come to the right conclusion more quickly than others) -- all this is given us via dribs and drabs of very well executed dialog and visuals.

Though appearing almost improvisational, Summer 1993 is filmed with a careful precision that brings to life each small moment and situation. And though there is no war either imminent nor recently finished, because this is Spain, the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco rest always just below the surface, mirrored in the political/cultural attitudes and actions of the different generations we view. (That's Isabel Rocatti, below, as Frida's grandmother.)

The movie is extremely episodic, and this may turn off some viewers. And yet, because each episode is handled so well, the resulting movie manages to build to a finale that is both surprising and somehow hoped for. No explanation is given for Frida's sudden outburst, but discerning viewers will, I think, understand and appreciate the psychological truth -- about loss and acceptance, love and hope -- that underpins the behavior on view here.

Stick Summer 1993, a major award-winner in its own country and at festivals worldwide, on your must-see list. From Oscilloscope Films and running 97 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, May 25, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal and in New York City at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, before making the rounds of more than 20 other major cities across the country. Here in South Florida, the film will open June 15 at the Tower Theater, Miami, and the Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton. Click here then scroll down to view all currently scheduled playdates.

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