A woman reflects on an important childhood holiday in Aftersun
A musing on memory and our efforts to understand our parents, Aftersun is the debut feature film from Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells and produced by Barry Jenkins (of Oscar winning Moonlight fame.) It stars Normal People’s Paul Mescal as young single dad Callum and Frankie Corio as his 11-year-old daughter Sophie in her debut acting role.
Sometime near the present-day Sophie looks back through old home video footage of a holiday she took with her father to a Turkish resort some twenty years earlier. The grainy handy Cam footage starts to haze into reality, and we are transported back to that holiday as we view Callum and Sophie’s time there together. Though the footage all appears happy Wells casts an air of melancholy, and we are immediately on edge that this holiday holds some significance.
Aftersun manages to capture the late 90s British holiday experience so well that the whole thing aches with nostalgia. I have been on this holiday. All my friends have been on this holiday. The resort booked by a ropey travel agent where nothing measures up to the pictures and there is somehow construction going on 24/7. The awful evening entertainment put on by hungover, dead eyed holiday reps. Your parents having been too cheap to book the fancier place next door but sneaking you in to use the better facilities. The overwhelming abundance of other sunburnt British tourists and absolutely no locals. Callum could be any of our dads.
Mescal and Corio are sensational together, portraying a movingly deep father daughter bond. We watch them tenderly dab aftersun on each other and Callum gently stroking Sophie’s face as she falls asleep. These quiet displays of love powerful, understated, genuine. Corio is an astonishing young talent, she commands the screen for much of the film as we follow the story through her inexperienced yet perceptive eyes.
Whilst it’s clear that these two desperately love each other there is some sort of barrier to their relationship. Something more complex than just a divorce, there’s a sense that they are not quite able to exist fully in each other’s lives.
The whole film plays like little vignettes of memory, snapshots that we and Sophie are examining the meaning of. Pivotal, formational moments stand out as Sophie recalls key events in her coming-of-age story. Others feel lost or blurry, their significance not always clear. Wells has done a phenomenal job with the structuring of a story where much is shown but not said. Though it’s mostly linear, the occasional cut back to modern day Sophie reminds us that there is some sort of mystery here to unravel.
Just as the audience’s anxiety is boiling over and we begin to wonder ‘’when’s it going to happen? Somethings got to happen right?’’ Aftersun hits us with phenomenal, gut-wrenching third act – the peculiarly unsettling atmosphere crossing over into one of genuine alarm. Whilst I feel I cannot say much more without dropping spoilers to this beautifully constructed film, suffice to say that when the incredibly well utilised ‘Under Pressure’ started to play I have never heard so many people start audibly sobbing at the same time.
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Aftersun is a brilliant debut from Charlotte Wells who announces herself as an exciting new voice in British cinema. A meticulously crafted film of physical beauty and emotional depth, it leaves imagery and feeling that will haunt you long after you’ve left the cinema.
Aftersun has been reviewed as part of the BFI London Film Festival. A nationwide release is expected on 18th November 2022 via Mubi