Poetic and contemplative, writer / director Charlotte Wells‘ feature debut “Aftersun” is an elegant, heartbreaking story of the strong bond between a father and his daughter. This touching film is shot on 35 mm film, which gives it a vintage, dreamlike quality that captures a feeling through a visual metaphor for memory and mind.
At a seaside Turkish resort that has seen better days, 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) is treasuring her time with her dad, Calum (Paul Mescal). The pair are taking a short holiday and enjoying each other’s company, but both are struggling internally. Sophie is dealing with confusing feelings and her budding adolescence, and Calum feels buried under the weight of his life. They have each other, they’re good for each other, and they lean on each other. Jumping ahead in time twenty years, grown-up Sophie shares her tender recollections of their last trip together.
The slow-moving story through memory and time is an intensely emotional drama about innocence, maturity, and how we reflect on the past. The film is observational (which means there are many extended, drawn-out scenes of characters doing things like folding clothes or playing video games), and the subtlety can feel frustrating. Luckily, Corio and Mescal are so magnetic and authentic when portraying a parent-child relationship that they hold the entire film together. Calum is a great but flawed father who is dealing with severe depression, and Sophie has a worldly innocence that’s relatable. Wells manages to make both of her characters sympathetic, and it takes little effort to empathize with both a preteen girl and her dad.
It’s refreshing to see a portrayal of a single dad that’s loving and present. Calum is not a deadbeat dad or an absent father, he’s engaged with his kid and it’s clear that he truly loves her. He’s actually a good parent who is trying his hardest, it’s just impossible not be taken over by his own mental struggles.
There’s a warmth to the film that drifts in and out of the cloudy memories of childhood and are later reflected upon as an adult. This change in perspective from the mind of a child to that of a grown-up is communicated through strobe-lit flashes of Charlotte and Calum on a dance floor. There are some clever directorial choices by Wells, who has a unique method of visual expression.
“Aftersun” has an ambiguity that may alienate some, especially when paired with its leisurely storytelling. But this beautiful story of love and heartache packs quite the emotional punch.
By: Louisa Moore