Alessandra Lacorazza is a badass, period, full stop. The writer-director scored the 2024 Sundance U.S. Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic category for In The Summers. The film also nabbed her the Directing Award in the same category. And oh yeah, it was her directorial debut.
Yep, that is badass.
Her semi-autobiographical film In the Summers, is about the complicated and chaotic life of sisters Violeta and Eva, and their alcoholic and drug-addicted father, Vicente (René Pérez Joglar, a.k.a. Residente). The relationship between the threesome is broken up into four parts over summer visits in his homebase of Las Cruces, NM, and spans almost two decades. Each part is a different summer with an older set of sisters.
“I started developing it [In The Summers] a few years after my dad died,” Alessandra told the crowd at the film’s premiere in Park City. “It started with a conversation with my sister when we were just trying to piece together our lives with my dad as we were visiting him and his chaotic ways in the summer.”
In The Summers begins with the youngest versions of Violeta (Dreya Castillo) and Eva (Luciana Elisa Quinonez) being welcomed by an excited father, Vicente, eager to spend time with his daughters. Vicente carries on like most summer dads by over-applying the sunscreen and giving gifts to his girls. Never mind that he orders a full pitcher of beer before choosing to drive his daughters home with a “fun” game of chicken behind the wheel. Despite that, Vicente has it mostly together.
During this first part Eva, the youngest of the two, is bright-eyed and full of adoration for her dad. From her perspective, he is all-knowing and as close to perfect as the sunsets in the Land of Enchantment. Violeta is less enamored but still full of love even if she is preoccupied with her own sexual identity.
Two more sets of actors portray the sisters, marking the growth of the girls as well as the passage of time. All the while the relationship between father and his two daughters becomes less about making memories, and settles into days everyone would prefer to forget. Trips to the pristine and postcard-esque sights of southern New Mexico devolve into a driving disaster on a dark desert highway that will affect the three for a lifetime.
By the time we get to the oldest Violeta and Eva, played by Lio Mehiel (Mutt) and Sasha Calle (The Flash), the roles of everyone in the family have flipped. Eva is no longer enchanted by her pops and does what she can to blend in like a yucca plant in the landscape. Violeta is a strong, masters-bound young adult who is confident in her queerness. Meanwhile, Vicente has another shot to get it right with his new daughter, Natalia, born out of a relationship that has come and gone with Yenny (Leslie Grace).
Alessandra structured In the Summers after her own summers. “I was like, ‘I think it would be an interesting way to examine a life by just seeing these little snippets of a father who has a lot of love, but also has a lot of issues.’” That decision proves to be not just a good one, but a great one.
Never do we venture away from the summers in New Mexico. And, never do we see where the girls are when they are not with their dad. It’s a courageous choice and one that pays off.
But it’s not the only one.
By excluding the “outside,” Alessandra insulates the threesome and that makes their journey all the more poignant. This deliberate decision is further emphasized by her choosing to let moments breathe on screen rather than including unnecessary dialogue. Why tell an audience how a character is feeling when you can show them?
In the Summers is also helped out by the chemistry of each set of sisters. And we aren’t talking about Breaking Bad kind of chemistry – though it certainly is on par with that.
Each sister set has their own quiet, yet formidable presence on screen. But when paired, the dynamic between them is exceptional. This casting and the performances within make the reserved moments in the movie powerful.
All of it is anchored by René Pérez Joglar as Vicente. Best known as the Puerto Rican rapper, Residente, this is the artist’s first acting role. “I’m in the music industry,” says Residente at the film’s premiere. “People tell you, ‘oh yeah there’s this movie,’ and it never happens,” he continues. But this one, thankfully, was different.
In true rookie form, Residente didn’t immediately start to prepare. “I remember the first time that I read this script,” he says to Alessandra during the Q&A, “I’m sorry to tell you that it was two weeks before.” But his lack of early preparation doesn’t show one bit. His chemistry with all of the girls is not only believable, it is outstanding.
In the Summers is a phenomenal debut for first-time director Alessandra Lacorazza. Scratch that, it is a phenomenal film, period. It aches in places that are seen but not spoken. It celebrates the nuances of sisterhood without screaming it. What can we say, Sundance certainly knows the goods when it sees it. Previous festivals produced Celine Song’s Past Lives, up for a Best Picture Oscar this year, and 2022’s Best Picture winner Coda.
Regardless of where 2024 takes Alessandra and her sisters of summer, I am here with a big bowl of New Mexico green chile watching, waiting, and am so here for it!