A stunning and unforgettable debut film from Charlotte Wells, a huge claim, but arguably the best release of the year! Aftersun was released on 18th November 2022, and has received positive reviews overall. Natalie Howarth reviews.
“I think it’s nice that we share the same sky.”
Wells received a record-breaking total of 16 nominations for her debut, Aftersun, a raw, melancholic, and poignant story of paternal love and grief, at the British Independent Film Awards. Aftersun is a picturesque and emotional portrayal of a separated, struggling parent and his 11-year-old daughter, set in the 1990s, in a Turkish holiday resort.
This element of familiarity formulates the narrative to be relatable
It has a sentimental value, reminding you of the ritualistic nature of family holidays from when you were a kid, from trying to make friends your own age, to dancing the Macarena at the kid’s disco in the evening. This element of familiarity formulates the narrative to be relatable. Sophie’s character, played by Frankie Corio, is going through her formative years, as she has grown past her childhood innocence, she attempts to understand her dad, Calum played by Paul Mescal, and his life.
Sophie and Calum become the antithesis of each other: Sophie is excited by the prospect of growing up as she admires the older teenagers she sees on holiday, whilst Calum, tormented by being a young dad, is in disbelief that he is growing old. “I can’t see myself at 40, to be honest.” This obscure and heartbreaking line only increases an audience’s concern for Calum.
Sophie and Calum have a beautiful bond; there are lots of special moments such as their intimate conversations, and their days together spent on holiday having fun in each other’s company; one of my favourite scenes is where they are sat watching the evening entertainment, and throw bread rolls at the stage and immediately run off. Despite all this time spent together, there is a low-spirited air to Calum in his mannerisms and conduct.
It seems like he attempts to put on a façade of stability
Despite the film being focused on communication, there is a lack of direct communication, and thoughts are rarely voiced, especially in Calum’s case. It seems like he attempts to put on a façade of stability, but Sophie can see through this, at one point responding to him that he should stop “offering to pay for something when you don’t have the money.” This lack of direct communication trope is familiar to Mescal!
The focus shifts occasionally between different time periods, from the 90s in Turkey to the present day in New York. In the scenes from the present day, Sophie is a film director living with her girlfriend and young child; the memories that are revisited through the old VHS tape footage almost feel disorientating and foreboding, unable to prophesise the end, and leaving you with dread and fear for both of the characters.
There is something that is destroying him from the inside out
Paul Mescal, known as the well-admired Connell Waldron from the hit TV show Normal People, plays an unforgettable character in the show: a teen/young adult dealing with mental illness following a horrible loss of a friend. His striking portrayal of this struggle is replicated in his role of the dedicated father to his daughter Sophie. Despite his visceral emotions, there is something that is destroying him from the inside out, as, towards the end, we as an audience are left with a feeling of impending doom, as he begins to behave more irrationally and erratically, and we see himself and his daughter part at the airport.
In the final 10 or 15 minutes, I experienced a very physical reaction to the film, something I haven’t experienced for a year, and never to the extent that it is audible. This is my warning for you: before going to the cinema, bring tissues and don’t bother putting any eye makeup on.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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