Aftersun Synopsis: Sophie (Frankie Corio) reflects on the shared joy and private melancholy of a holiday she took with her father (Paul Mescal) twenty years earlier. Memories, real and imagined, fill the gaps between miniDV footage as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t.
Lost memories from a cherished vacation with her father prompt Sophie to reflect on the pair’s elusive relationship in Aftersun. Coming-of-age memoirs centered from the perspective of a reflective adult are relatively commonplace, but few features have approached that reflective lens with the same creative vigor as Aftersun.
The debut feature from writer/director Charlotte Wells utilizes several adept techniques in a meditative mood piece centered on the complex bond between a child and her parent. What may seem conceptually straightforward on paper eventually transforms into an unshakeable cinematic experience. Wells and her creative team develop a richly-textured gaze at the intense warmth and melancholy stemming from a nostalgic chapter in a woman’s life.
For Wells, Aftersun represents one of the finest feature-length debuts in recent memory. The emerging talent showcases the immense ability and concise vision of a well-respected auteur as she envisions one seemingly ordinary trip into the defining chapter of a father and daughter’s relationship (much of the narrative is based on Wells’ own experiences).
In terms of visceral craft, Aftersun defines an equally expressive and distinctive aesthetic. Wells paints a not-so-scenic vacation within a run-down Turkish resort with the youthful exuberance of her central protagonist. Each run-down corridor and vanilla hotel amenity receives the warmth of a sun-kissed paint job from Wells and Cinematographer Gregory Oke – a choice that skillfully conveys the wistfulness and wonderment of a teenager acquainting with the endless possibilities of adulthood.
The inclusion of retrograde VHS footage also leaves a lasting impact. Wells displays remarkable tact with her deft inclusion of lo-fi footage, ensuring that each use of the well-executed technique builds upon the lingering sentiments of her film. The dizzying and imprecise imagery contained in these frames serves as an articulate vehicle for conveying the fuzzy reflections ensnared within a bygone memory.
While rosy aesthetics convey deeply-seated nostalgia, Wells’ craft also showcases Aftersun’s darker connotations. Much of the film basks in the shared affection of two estranged family members enjoying a seldom chance at bonding together. Yet, under the surface of these travelogue moments, Wells nestles into the undeniable cracks of disconnect between both parties.
Wells showcases this ideal best through her immersive framing of Sophie’s perspective. Her savvy camera placement on reflective surfaces, such as smugged mirrors or dim TV screens, adeptly captures the sizable gulf wedging the two apart. Sophie may yearn for the open-ended future of adulthood, but it’s clear from Wells’ wandering camerawork that Sophie’s father, Calum, is suffocating under the weight of his responsibilities.
Wells captures the flickers of intimate warmth and isolating detachment between Sophie and Calum with a well-balanced temperament. Her cinéma vérité filmmaking approach never spells out clean conclusions for audiences. Instead, Wells articulates well-seasoned ruminations on familial bonds, memory’s fleeting nature, and humanity’s consuming desire for mutual understanding through her extraordinary naturalism.
I also heap significant praise on Wells’s incisive writing abilities. Her screenplay never sacrifices its untamed realism in favor of mannered Hollywood cliches or heavyhanded speeches. The ambient artistic approach allows Aftersun to maintain the airs of an ephemeral memory – a fleeting moment in time that simultaneously feels incredibly vivid yet hauntingly undefined.
Aftersun’s filmmaking strengths help generate two remarkably moving performances. Paul Mescal is emerging as a dark horse Best Actor Oscar contender for a reason. As Calum, the actor skilfully conveys the insular anguish building under the surface of his evasive yet charismatic persona. Young star Frankie Corio effortlessly inhabits the role of Sophie as the character unknowingly endures an eye-opening chapter in her life. Together, Mescal and Corio form a remarkably lived-in pair as they volley affectionate exchanges and moments of playful innocence.
Through the intelligent perspective and boundless ability of Charlotte Wells, Aftersun left me shaken by its fearless pursuits. Wells and company have crafted one of the year’s most audacious and impactful works through their precise dive into raw human quandaries.
Aftersun is now playing in theaters.
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