In her first feature film, director Carla Simón draws on personal experiences for “Summer 1993” (“Estiu 1993”), a poignant tale of tragic loss, bewildering anger and finding love through tears.
Beginning in Barcelona, the 6-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) is being taken away and must say goodbye to her friends. She does not cry but looks back with a shaky understanding that her mother is dead and will never return. Her father is already dead, leaving a cloud of suspicion that hangs over her as she journeys to the countryside to live with her maternal Uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) and his wife Marga (Bruna Cusí).
Frida is an only child and suddenly becomes an older sister to her 4-year-old cousin Anna (Paula Robles), a sweet, unassuming child. While Esteve and Marga are kind and patient, they have cause for concern — first from the doctors who worry that Frida, too, might have the virus that killed her mother, and then from Frida herself. Like even real sisters, the eldest is not always pleased that she has an admiring shadow. Frida is not, however, a bad seed; she is a young child trying to grapple with difficult emotions.
When her grandparents visit, she is petulant — although she and Anna receive almost identical presents, she wants the pink one that Anna received instead of the blue. She also wants to go away with her grandparents, away from her new parents who are patient but at times exasperated.
Some of these emotions are expertly expressed in the Santiago Racaj’s cinematography that provides at times a shaky view of a chaotic world from a 6-year-old’s point of view; a world of isolation even when Frida is not alone. The rural setting becomes a sun-filled idle but with some dark dangers at times.
Under Simón, the children of this cast are natural and not precocious. We can easily believe the actions of each. Artigas’ Frida is an outsider looking into a family that radiates believable warmth. Verdaguer and Cusi express a familiarity of intimates who are not always sure that this new child will fit in, but they want to help in a manner that is neither saintly nor too self-assured. Simón’s script drops bits of dialogue that Frida overhears, adult talk not necessarily meant for her ears and some that she might not necessarily understand.
“Summer 1993” is an intimate, personal experience that is especially remarkable as a first feature by its director/writer. The movie has won a host of honors at the Berlin International Film Festival and Spain’s main national awards, the Goya Awards, where it won Best New Director, Best Supporting Actor (Verdaguer) and Best New Actress (Cusi).
“Summer 1993” continues at the Laemmle Playhouse 7. In Catalan with English subtitles.
Ian Cheney’s “Most Unknown” might not be fully comprehendible to nonscientists, but it does touch upon people and institutions of the Pasadena area, namely Caltech and NASA.
Cheney follows a chain of knowledge as nine scientists meet one another across the world in an attempt to find answers about time and knowledge and, more universally, what we can learn from each other.
This isn’t Cheney’s first foray into the mysterious world of science and scientists. His “The City Dark” was a lyrical contemplation of light pollution and what we lose when we no longer can view the stars.
This film is less focused and sometimes meanders in danger of losing meaning as we meet these strangers who try to connect through each other’s understanding of science. Cheney calls this documentary “something of an experiment” as “an attempt to break new ground in storytelling” and “a reminder of the deep human wondering that drives science forward.”
One of the nine scientists, Victoria Orphan, is a geobiologist who received her Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara and joined Caltech as the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology (a division of Geological and Planetary Sciences) since 2004. She isn’t the only one with a California or NASA connection.
Luke McKay, a researcher studying methane metabolism in thermal environments, had a postdoctoral fellowship through the NASA Astrobiology Institute for the study of primitive microbial processes at Yellowstone National Park. Geomicrobiologist and Penn State Associate Professor Jennifer Macalady earned her PhD at UC Davis and did postdoc research at UC Berkeley.
Cheney also visits with Rachel Smith, an assistant professor at Appalachian State University who does research at Keck Telescope in Hawaii. The cast also includes: physicist Davide D’Angelo from the Universita delgi Studi di Milano; Axel Cleeremans, professor of cognitive psychology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Anil Seth, professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex; and Jun Ye who began at the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, but is now an adjunct professor in physics at the University of Colorado.
“The Most Unknown” is like eavesdropping on a conversation that could take place anywhere in the Pasadena area. But while nonscientists may not get all of what they are saying, anyone can understand that we can learn from each other, which can lead to surprising new lines of interest and inquiry.
“The Most Unknown” opens at the Pasadena Playhouse 7 on June 11. Later this year, the documentary will stream on Netflix along with profiles of each scientist made available on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.