In the first of a series of guest blogs delving deeper into our Visions of Europe season, Mojola Akinyemi looks at how two summer films present characters experiencing traumas that contradict the expectations of the season.
Summer, the seemingly endless season of hazy days, stifling nights, and sun-filled adventures. The days get longer, brighter, and the sun brings with it the promise of rejuvenation. Like photosynthesising plants, we are to bask in this warmth, before we shed our leaves and hibernate in the cooler months.
Summer 1993 and Summer Survivors present us with those whose lives have not aligned with these presumed seasonal expectations. They explore loss, of those we loved and of lives we once knew. They show that the full range of human emotion should not be limited by the weather, presenting us with the peaks and lows of our collective experience.
Summer 1993 is a semi-autobiographical story written and directed by Carla Simón. It gives us Frida, a six-year-old girl whose mother has recently died from an unspecified illness, following her father a few years prior. From urban Barcelona, she is sent to the Catalonian countryside, a relaxed, idyllic, home where Frida’s uncle, aunt, and their three-year-old daughter Anna reside. During the long vacation, the girls jostle and play, and the film appears to settle into this new routine. However, we are quickly reminded that Frida is marked by her grief, with the loss of her biological parents shaping her psyche. She is traumatised by their deaths, and is jealous of Anna for having a loving, living family that is unquestionably her own.
Her actions cause tension within the household, particularly when the safety of Anna is put at risk. Despite the questionable morality of her actions (is it even possible to ascribe this to such a young girl?), the rationale behind her actions makes sense, within her short-sighted child logic. The film slowly paces us through the drowsy summer days: the girls play, bond, and Frida grieves the family she has lost, while learning to accept the new one she has found. Her quiet acts of mourning, such as leaving gifts or praying to her late mother, do not overshadow the joyful moments that proceed without her.
There seems to be an inherent happiness attributed to summer, as though our moods are to rise along with the mercury readings in a thermostat.
While Summer 1993 has time on its side, able to linger within the balmy weeks, the action of Summer Survivors is mostly condensed within a single car journey. The feature debut of Lithuanian Marija Kavtaraszė, the film follows Indré, an ambitious, recently graduated psychologist who must transport Paulius, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and Justé, who recently survived a suicide attempt, to the seaside town of Palanga. Paulius, in hiding the reasons for their journey to a waitress, describes the trip as a “vacation”. In a way, this is correct. Their journey allows the patients to vacate their usual residence, with the enclosed car being more emotionally freeing than the psychiatric hospital. They open up to each other, discussing their past lives, their emotions, their views on how their disorders have manifested. Eventually, the crew disbands, and the subdued, almost melancholic ending to the film reminds us that, despite the earlier joys, the season can only do so much.
As both films drew to a close, I was reminded of my own feelings towards this summer. Life seems to have opened up, we have gained our apparent freedoms, but the memory of losing so many tempers this celebration. There seems to be an inherent happiness attributed to summer, as though our moods are to rise along with the mercury readings in a thermostat. Both films show that this is not necessarily the case. We must allow ourselves to feel the full spectrum of human emotions, regardless of the season. These touching, witty, and honest films remind me of that fact, and I hope that they will also do the same for you.
This blog was written by: