Does a piece of art need explanation to be understood or appreciated? That’s always been a conundrum for me. Shouldn’t it be up to the artist what they choose to provide and who the target audience is? Do you expect music’s lyrics to be explained in the album’s liner notes, and are you lost or uninterested without an explanation of exactly what a song means?
Frida’s summer in 1993 Catalonia isn’t terribly hard to relate to. Her parents are both recently deceased, early casualties of the AIDS pandemic. Fearful that Frida may have also contracted the virus, nervous relatives wait for test results and consult with physicians. The year is important, as it pinpoints where on the timeline medical research has progressed in combatting a relatively new disease.
But the film isn’t really about AIDS, that’s just part of the backstory and setting. It is the sudden upheaval of Frida’s life, moving to the country, taking up permanent residence with an aunt and uncle, and sharing her new guardians’ attention with a younger cousin that seems most traumatizing. That and an overly attentive grandmother who inadvertently interferes with the orphan’s acclimation to her new surroundings.
There isn’t much dialog to this screenplay. What we learn as an audience is mostly through observation, sometimes just two little girls playing in the dirt and half mumbling to each another. The “Joan Crawford” imitation, dress-up (pictured above) gives us a glimpse into Frida’s impression of her mother. It’s not a very flattering picture, but we at least get the impression she was loved on some level in the past.
It takes everyone a few months of self reflection and adjustment to begin moving forward, perhaps that’s why everything is so quiet in her new home over the summer. Authentic might be the one word that best describes this film. It’s not overly revealing, but focusses on the story’s most important aspects in a way that makes you comfortable with what isn’t said.
And how they got the kids to ignore the camera’s presence, I have no idea.
Venue: Seattle International Film Festival 2018