'Summer 1993' film review: Intimate & tender portrait of childhood, grieving
The unpretentious Spanish family drama "Summer 1993" (screened during AFI FEST 2017) is a vignette of genuine, melodrama-free moments - the totality of which is a tender story of a young girl forced to start a new life with a new family.
In short: After six-year-old Frida's parents die of AIDS, the orphaned girl struggles to adapt to life with her uncle's family.
The strength of "1993" is its light touch. The story's basic elements are grandiose in nature: the oft-overlooked victim of an epidemic that left a little girl orphaned. A lesser film would have stumbled all over itself to hammer home some obvious social message - but this is not the route of "1993." This moving character study of grief and childhood focuses on Frida, allowing her reactions tell her story - that of a girl whose life is completely changed by a misunderstood disease who stigma lingers to the survivors.
The film smartly follows Frida's journey mostly from her perspective, mainly letting the camera follow her around as she explores her uncle and aunt's home. Frida's family talks about her within earshot, seemingly treating her as if she is invisible. The goings on and musings of the adults around her are heard in the background, always putting priority on Frida's pensive and hesitant actions as the primary focus.
The relateable hardship of a child trying to make new friends and start anew is compounded by the stigmas Frida must endure not only as an orphan, but also the child of an AIDS patient -- during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Add the trauma of losing both of her parents and "1993" paints a thoughtful portrait of a girl trying to start a new life, unable to let go of her old life - and acting out.
Frida is not characterized as some malicious hellion reeking utter destruction on her uncle's family. The film empathizes with Frida's world being completely upended, while also allowing her character latitude to explore and react to her new family life.
Even in Frida's most frustrating moments, the film does not judge her nor does it condone her rebellious actions. The film's naturalistic approach presents her struggles in an utterly humane light, one that is free of emotional manipulation on the part of the storytellers.
Final verdict: "Summer 1993" is a tender portrait of a family and a little girl trying to cope with grief. The film is so immersive that at times it feels more like a documentary than the phenomenal personal and intimate story that it is.
"Summer 1993," Spain's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, opens in select cities May 25. This Spanish language film is unrated and has a running time of 99 minutes.