If you’re like me, you don’t remember much about your sixth year of life, just fuzzy flashes of distant memory that are neither reliable nor stable. But if you’re like Frida, the adorable 6-year-old at the heart of the superb “Summer 1993,” the trauma of losing her mother to AIDS has a way of making time stand still, allowing the memory to forever remain crystal clear. I think that’s why Carla Simón’s cinematic memoir feels so achingly real; it’s summoned from deep within, a freeing form of therapy that pays honor to both her mother and the elasticity of a child’s ability to process and eventually grasp the concept of death.

The trick is in showing that internal transformation from the outside looking in; and doing it with the raw talent of a 6-year-old rookie actress as your catalyst. Against all odds, Simón finds that little miracle in the form of the precocious Laia Artigas, a pint-sized Sarah Bernhardt with the ability to be both natural and affecting in front of the camera. How Simón was able to draw so much from one so little is awe inspiring in itself, but to extend it over the movie’s entire 95 minutes is jaw-dropping. The only thing better is the work by Paula Robles, the 4-year-old spitfire playing Frida’s impressionable cousin and chief partner in crime, Anna.

The pair is a constant source of unbridled joy, viscerally capturing what it’s like to be a kid with the world as your oyster, to frolic in the bucolic beauty of rural Catalonia over the course of a seemingly ordinary summer. But we can see in Artigas’ wonderfully expressive eyes the demons nipping at Frida’s humanity. Her soul is empty, but she’s too young to know it. It’s a state of confusion she expresses outwardly by acting out and generally being a brat, continually trying the patience of her new guardians, Uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) and Aunt Marga (Bruna Cusi), who’ve been handed the impossible task of guiding Frida through her repressed grief.

As evidenced by Simón’s subsequent success as a filmmaker, we know the couple’s efforts were not in vain. But we also see it was definitely a trial, especially when it comes to the repeated dangers Frida seems to be drawing their Anna into, including one incident resulting in a broken arm, and in another, a near drowning. Clearly, Simón is holding nothing back in her critique of her younger self. If anything, she’s too hard on her surrogate. But that’s just another sign of her refusal to traffic in the cheap sentimentality Hollywood loves so dearly.

Her movie is raw, unflinching and unafraid to go to dark places, like the way the parents of the other village children not-so-covertly express their concern about Frida passing the HIV virus onto their kids. She’s clean, by the way, but that doesn’t squelch the subtle bigotry that Frida is still too young to wholly understand. Only now, as Simón reflects back as a 31-year-old does she know how alone that made her feel. But don’t get the idea this is a movie exclusively about AIDS and the reams of misinformation circulating about the virus 25 years ago. An even more damning voice emanates from Frida’s grandmother (Isabel Rocatti) and her persistent put downs of her recently deceased daughter, viewed by her as blight on the family.

In Frida’s head, though, Mom was her rock. But in a seemingly innocent game of house Frida plays with Anna, we get an inkling of what life was like for her while under the roof of her diva-like mother back in Barcelona. It’s a telling scene that’s second only to the wrenching moment when Frida allows her mother’s death to finally sink in. And Artigas and Cusi handle it movingly, mostly because the moment has been well-earned. It also dovetails nicely into the film’s observations on the manifestation of grief in a very young child.

It’s a slow process, and Simón handles it accordingly, taking her time, letting her fable breathe and expand organically. It’s basically her tale, but she never leaves her fingerprints. Deep down, it’s really the story of every child who has been orphaned at a vulnerable age. But we can’t forget Simón was one of the lucky ones. Her life turned out all right, but “Summer 1993” is also a salve for the lost children who didn’t have it so well. More than that, it’s a tribute to the resiliency of youth, as well as the fragility of life.

“Summer 1993”

Cast includes Laia Artigas, Bruna Cusi, David Verdaguer and Paula Robles. (In Spanish with English subtitles.)

(Not rated)

Grade: B+