In the relationship between parents and children, memories can be ravaged battlefields. The validity of certain experiences is tested and accusations of wrongdoing are negotiated. It’s within this charged arena that Alessandra Lacorazza sets her quiet debut film, In the Summers. The feature is a visual poem, an enveloping four-stanza ode to experiences shared by a man and his daughters.
It starts in the summer when Violeta (Dreya Renae Castillo) and Eva (Luciana Quinonez) visit their father, Vincente (René Pérez Joglar) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Their first encounter, in the parking lot of the tiny town airport, is thick with the stilted awkwardness of distance. Lacorazza, who also wrote the screenplay, avoids specifying why Vincente hasn’t seen his kids, but some information can be gleaned from their bilingual conversations. We know it’s been a minute — so long that Vincente can’t remember what year of school his kids have just finished, among other milestones.
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But the children are forgiving, as children tend to be when they are young. As Vincente drives Violeta and Eva around New Mexico, he regales them with stories of his own youth. He’s inherited a house from his mother, a gorgeous Spanish Adobe-style home with a pool in the backyard. Inside are the ephemera of generations: worn photos preserved in inherited frames, furniture so old it has its own secrets, and various containers, each with a story. Lacorazza and DP Alejandro Mejía tour the home. The details are important because later they will serve as evidence.
Of what, exactly, Lacorazza takes her time to reveal. In the Summer moves at the speed of a July afternoon or an August morning — an unhurried and languorous pace. Like last year’s Sundance stunner All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, In the Summer sways to its own rhythm. The story unfolds slowly and depends on the impressive cast assembled. It’s the subtleties of their performances — nervous exchanges, slight moments when a body recoils — that clue us in to the latent danger of this vacation.
Vincente is a smart man who struggles to be a good father. He is an addict. His temper gets the best of him, and his thirst for thrill lands him in dangerous situations. Vincente wants to be better and, because of Joglar’s protective performance, you want that for him too. He buys the girls gifts, takes them stargazing and teaches them to play pool at his best friend Carmen’s bar. Played by Emma Ramos, Carmen becomes an immediate role model for Violeta, who can’t stop staring at her tapered cut. The next summer, when Violeta returns to New Mexico, she wears her own hair short.
Lacorazza introduces each section of the film with a long take of ritual altars, filled with objects we’ll come to recognize. When Vincente challenges his daughters to a no-utensils pasta eating contest, we remember the mass of red sauce and noodles from the first chapter opener.
The differences between Violeta and Eva become more apparent each summer, and there’s a charm to seeing the shot of the siblings waiting at the airport replicated every couple of years. Unlike Eva, Violeta (now played by Kimaya Thais Limón) doesn’t crave Vincente’s attention. She doesn’t even expect it. In this second summer, she’s preoccupied by Camila (Gabriella Elizabeth Surodjawan), the girl her father tutors for extra money. Violeta wonders if the curly haired New Mexico native has a boyfriend or if she has a real chance. Meanwhile, Eva pines for Vincente’s attention, which seems to be reserved for Violeta. At one point, he snarlingly demands why Eva can’t be smart like her sister.
Allison Salinas, who plays teenage Eva, captivates. After a traumatic incident during the second summer, her character comes to New Mexico alone for summer number three. These are a painful couple of months for Eva, who experiences the full heartbreak of unmet expectations from parents. Salinas communicates that pain with her eyes, which slightly tear up whenever Vincente directs his cruelty toward her.
By now we understand that Vincente is an alcoholic, frustrated by his inability to find work and anxious about proving himself. Eva also understands this, and spends most of her third summer wandering Las Crucas alone or helping her father’s new wife (Leslie Grace) care for their newborn. Against these disappointments, the house, so full of promise that first summer, falls into disrepair. With each reunion between father and children, Lacorazza gently guides our attention to the pool, clogged with leaves and dirt, the cluttered porch or the beer bottles accumulating on each surface.
In the Summers closes with a fourth chapter that, despite its stirring moments and brisker pacing, feels less assured than the previous three. Violeta (Mutt star Lio Mehiel) and Eva (Sasha Calle) are adults when they return to New Mexico. Violeta has transitioned, and will be starting graduate school in the fall. Eva’s fate is more obscure, but from the sunglasses she refuses to take off, you can sense the pain of that lonely summer hasn’t left her. Vincente is also different; his changes are marked by no alcohol in the house, a revived pool and an endearing shyness around his kids.
As Vincente tries to atone through insistent invitations, Violeta and Eva maintain firm boundaries with their father. They rent a place instead of staying at his house and a strained politeness blights their interactions with him. The presence of Vincente’s other child, Natalia (Indigo Montez), reveals the chasm between who Vincente was and who he is now. Some plotlines in this section — like the one between adult Violeta and Camila (now played by Sharlene Cruz) — are dogged by a lack of resolution.
But when Lacorazza focuses on the relationship between Violeta, Eva and Vincente, In the Summers feels steadier. In this space, Lacorazza considers the realities of forgiveness and wonders if healing is more about moving forward than it is about letting go.
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