DRAMA; 1hr 35min (Spanish with subtitles)
STARRING: Laia Artigas, Paula Robles, Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer
Little girl lost: Artigas
Whisked by night from her Barcelona home to a cosy country house, six-year-old Frida (Artigas) is a downcast observer of her unwanted new world. Her parents are dead and she must now find a new way forward with her Uncle Esteve (Verdaguer), his wife Marga (Cusi) and their four-year-old daughter, Anna (Robles), whose embracing nature is the light to the shade of a wary Frida’s withholding. Not only does she have a new, instant family to contend with but her actual parents’ history is shady, and this being the country, everyone is aware of some version of it. For Esteve and Marga, the challenges are manifold. They’re patently good people but Frida’s baggage weighs heavy.
That writer-director Carla Simón’s award-winning debut belongs to its two, top-billed children makes poignant sense since the story is taken from her life. Both girls are acutely present without preciousness or overplaying: Robles is a total cutie, while Artigas, on whose narrow shoulders much of the emotional heft rests, conveys a sad ambiguity well beyond her years. Unstudied and episodic, Simón’s fluid scripting plays to their strengths in a sequence of vignettes from Frida’s shifting perspective, played out in an apparently Edenic seclusion.
The original Eden, of course, is notorious for its resident serpent. Whether Frida will come to fill a psychologically scarred version of that role or whether she’s a bereft and conflicted innocent in need of healing is a question that Simón’s reconfigured family is no rush to answer.