The impressionistic touches in Summer 1993 are wonderful to behold, and you always know they’re coming from a deep place because of how authentic they feel. The scene in which Frida dresses up and playacts the role of her mother is something that feels integral to an imaginative childhood, and yet, when the film ends, you look back at the scene and understand the hidden longing it encompasses. On the face of it, this is a film about a little girl who must learn to adjust to a new home and a new family, but underneath it is also about the girl’s secret rites of mourning, and the strangeness of a world that is missing the one mother you love. At first you are led to believe that her visible lack of maturity makes her somehow immune to the complicated miseries of orphanhood, but that is not so. In fact, she is too attuned to them, and doesn’t know how to process it all. She takes it out on her cousin, and in unpredictable temper tantrums. She deliberately makes trouble for her aunt, refusing to obey her requests. In truth, she is a handful, but not because, as her aunt incorrectly labels her in a fit of anger, a girl with “no morals.” She is merely trying to find them in the aftermath of the most immoral act imaginable: losing her parents in quick succession.
Simón’s loving replication of the past is anchored in a bevy of lush greens and warm tans, with the sounds of domestic and outdoor life coming through with a keen vitality. She does her best to remember the knee-high perspective of her childhood, and I think she more than succeeds, helped as she is by Laia Artigas’ excellent showing. More importantly, she succinctly layers both the idyllic and sombre aspects of her tale, so that both tones coexist harmoniously and are able to exact a continuous dialogue. When that piercing ending arrives, the momentary flicker of confusion is replaced with an ache as fresh as a grazed knee as you find yourself struck by the strength of Frida’s character, as well as the keenness of her loss. As we all know in our formative years, some wounds are more than just skin-deep, and take much longer to heal. With the right support system behind us, though, the promise of recovery endures.