Director: Charlotte Wells | Runtime: 1h 42mins | Drama
Sophie reflects on her relationship with her Father, specifically reliving a holiday they took together when she was only 11 years old. Here, her Father promises her the best holiday she’s ever had, while struggling with his own demons privately.
There is an instant sense of nostalgia in Wells’ feature debut, the sun-kissed imagery of pool-side relaxation and the tranquillity in which she captures the film effortlessly evokes our own memories of the classic British holiday. But, what’s incredibly impressive about Aftersun is, in the film’s stillness, it captures a portrait of two characters both drastically changing in their own way.
Sophie is an 11-year old who’s hormones are kicking in. She often finds herself staring at the older kids as they drink, get together and socialise – half wanting to join them and half wanting to awkwardly watch. Her story of self discovery is the most likely to unlock the nostalgia in you, as the film continually finds reflective aspects with Sophie and other children, understanding how important these memories are and how fondly we remember them. But, more importantly, they show how she is growing as a young girl while never quite understanding what her Father is going through.
Judging from the surroundings, Aftersun is set in the 90’s, a time when mental health wasn’t so easily spoken about. Calum, a fragile man who’s self-worth is at its rock bottom, suffers in silence while trying to provide an unforgettable experience for his daughter. Scenes in which Calum is curled over hauntingly crying in solitude truly are heart wrenching, and the film’s jumps in time suggest that it’s already too late to help.
An older Sophie appears frequently in a running motif, trying to reach her Father in a strobe-lit crowd in an effort to pull him from the darkness. The film is chock-full of delicate symbolism, littering it across the entire runtime with grace and intelligence, but there is a particularly affecting scene in which the strobe-lit dance floor is juxtaposed with Calum and Sophie dancing on their final night on holiday. Not only is it harrowing to watch so much delight be paralleled by so much pain, but it shows that Wells has a seasoned eye for capturing so much by doing so little.
Frankie Corio is a revelation as Sophie, she’s expressive with the child-like wonder and mature enough to explore the complicated parts of her character. But, it’s Paul Mescal’s performance as Calum that anchors the darker places in which the film goes. He’s effortlessly fluid and excitable as the fun-loving Dad, but he’s able to capture the suffering lurking below pitch-perfectly.
It seems as though what’s capturing audiences the most about Aftersun is the performances, but it cannot be understated just how rare of a film this is. It’s ability to be so devastatingly real while exuding so much warmth and nostalgia is unlike anything you’re likely to see – it’s safe to say Charlotte Wells has become a Director to watch.