Aftersun Review

Aftersun
In the late 1990s, 30-year-old single father Calum (Mescal) takes his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Corio) to a Turkish holiday resort for a rare trip together. Years later, an adult Sophie (Rowlson-Hall) pieces together the memories once shared with her now absent dad.

by Beth Webb |
Release Date:

18 Nov 2022

Original Title:

Aftersun

Rare and special is a film capable of summoning this much poignancy: a feeling which lingers well beyond the film’s final, achingly moving moments on screen. That Aftersun is the debut from British filmmaker Charlotte Wells only adds to its accomplishment.

For the most part, this two-hander of a drama moves along a languorous linear timeline: Calum (Paul Mescal) is on the brink of his 31st birthday, and committed to giving his daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) the best experience he can with the little money he has.

Aftersun

Their days are filled with idle pastimes and familiar rituals, like the careful application of after-sun cream to each other’s faces at the end of a long and somehow exhausting day. Wells masterfully creates a transfixing rhythm via running motifs — hang-gliders drifting across the sky, bare British limbs knocking together by the pool — to further pull you into their world, one of tinny ’90s chart music and luminous fizzy drinks. Eleven-year-old Sophie is starting to notice the hormones in the air, and the way the older kids touch. Other than his palpable love for his daughter, Calum keeps his feelings caged. Instead, a series of small sentiments slowly build up the profile of a young man who has lost his sense of self-worth, at a time when dialogue around mental health was less robust.

Frankie Corio is a revelation, imbuing Sophie with scrappiness and affection that never feels forced.

Mescal played his first lead role in Normal People only two years before Aftersun but is already proving to be a unique and complex screen presence, with crooked charisma and a talent for playing characters who aren’t all that they appear to be. As Calum, he delivers a soulful performance that unfurls gradually, heartbreakingly, over the holiday. Corio, meanwhile, is a revelation, imbuing Sophie with scrappiness and affection that never feels forced. Together, the pair conjure a tenderness that is, at times, breathtaking; in one scene, Mescal traces Corio’s eyebrow with his finger until Sophie falls into an easy sleep.

Their story exists in the form of adult Sophie’s (Celia Rowlson-Hall) memories, who, on her own 30th birthday, has that holiday heavily on her mind. Rather than a conventional flashback device, Wells puts Calum and older Sophie together under the flashing lights of a crowded, kinetic dancefloor, moving to the music in a way that feels far more powerful than words could achieve. The final act doesn’t pack a big gut-punch moment, but evokes all the emotional weight of one. The end of Calum and Sophie’s holiday is inevitable, though not before a joyful, precious few final moments together.

Aftersun plays out as a deftly orchestrated, empathetic and honest character study. It is beautifully performed, and captured with heart and ingenuity by Wells, who isn’t afraid to play with framing and style (the holiday is filmed in part on a shaky MiniDV camera) to compliment her story. Breakout filmmaking simply doesn’t come more exciting than this.

This mesmeric debut will make you want to stay suspended in its sun-baked setting with its two captivating lead characters for far longer than the runtime. A triumph of new British filmmaking.

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