THE STORY – The film centers two sisters navigating fraught summer visits with their father.
THE CAST – René Pérez, Sasha Calle, Lio Mehiel, Leslie Grace & Sharlene Cruz
THE TEAM – Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes
Being able to spend only summers with your dad is tough enough, but seeing him (after each visit) falling further and further into the throes of addiction is downright heartbreaking. That’s what childhood summers were like for queer filmmaker Alessandra Lacorazza and her sister growing up, creating memories both warm and painful that Lacorazza has artfully fashioned into “In the Summers,” a haunting memory piece that won both the Grand Prize and Best Director prizes at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.
Spanning 20 years, “In the Summers” is broken down into four chapters, each chronicling four summers during which sisters Violeta (Dreya Castillo) and Eva (Luciana Elisa Quinonez) traveled from their California home to spend with their father Vicente (René Pérez Joglar, known professionally as Residente) in Las Cruces, NM. With an ever-present cigarette behind his ear, the tattooed Vincente projects the image of a thug, but when he reunites with his daughters at the local airport, he melts into a paternal puddle. Things are, at first, a little awkward; he’s not in their lives most of the year and has no idea, for example, what grade they’re in. But, as all three splash into Vincente’s backyard pool, that first summer gets off to a promising start. Still, there’s something about Vincente that just seems a little bit…off.
Lacorazza has carefully structured each of the film’s four chapters by opening with a shot of a candlelit altar containing photos and objects that reflect the family’s status at that moment. As Chapter II begins several years later, Violeta and Eva, now teens (now performed by Kimaya Thais and Allison Salinas), find a very different Vicente waiting for them at the airport. He’s short-tempered and surrounded at home by empty bottles and cans, signaling to the girls that their father’s addiction — which he had so carefully covered up during previous summers — has finally overtaken him. The sure sign? The pool is clouded over and in much disrepair (The pool itself does some heavy emotional lifting here). Without Vincente as the center of their visit, the girls follow their own paths: Violeta, exploring her queer sexuality, bonds with Carmen (Emma Ramos), Vincente’s lesbian friend and bar owner; and Eva begins to feel that Vincente is favoring Violeta and questioning just where she fits into this family.
Like many films that spring from filmmakers’ memories, “In the Summers” is more of a collection of moments and indelible images than a straightforward narrative, a structure that provides much of the film’s strengths and a few of its weaknesses. Though Lacorazza’s memories are specific to her situation — her Latino family, her sexuality, being the child of an addict — the way she has artfully assembled them here also gives them an unexpected universality. Who hasn’t dealt with an awkward adolescence or a troubled parent (And the silences!)? Too often, rookie filmmakers feel the need to flood their soundtracks with talk — much of it meaningless — but Lacorazza bravely realizes that often what is not said means more than what is spoken, an insight which she utilizes to maximum effect here.
Lacorazza’s riskiest move — casting three different sets of actors to play Violeta and Eva over the years — becomes the one with the biggest payoff. Though strangers to one another before filming, the first two teams of actors each form sisterly bonds that come across as so knowing and tight that you feel they could finish each other’s sentences. And, by the time the accomplished Lio Mehiel and Sasha Calle bring it home as the adult sisters, you’re sold that they are, indeed, familia. If the adjustment when one team is swapped out for another causes a bit of uncertainty, it soon dissipates once the actors find their footing. Their presence is so strong that in Chapter III, when Violeta refuses to see her father due to a tragic move on his part, the mere absence of Thais is keenly felt, arguably making this the least compelling chapter.
Lacorazza’s skill with actors can probably best be shown by the performance of Joglar as Vincente. The Puerto Rican music star had never acted before but is asked to carry out the lion’s share of the film’s dramatic scenes, and it may be his years of commanding the concert stage that gives Joglar a sense of confidence before the camera. You feel like Joglar knows this guy: his need to be macho with his friends and tender with his daughters, yet knowing that he’s a failure in relationships, which only feeds his substance abuse. It’s a powerful performance with unexpected moments of grace; his scenes with Leslie Grace as his new girlfriend, Yenny, are particularly compelling, and this gives “In the Summers” a firm dramatic foundation.
One reason why “In the Summers” feels so fresh is Lacorazza’s ability to incorporate her voice as a queer Latina into every facet of the family drama, particularly in the growth of Violeta as a character. It’s the kind of Latin representation not often seen onscreen, providing the film with a layer of complexity that makes it richer. If “In the Summers” is about nothing else, it is a film about forgiveness, both to those who have wronged you and, as importantly, to yourself; that in itself makes it worthwhile.