Blending the captured and uncaptured to produce an emotionally compelling piece of film that for a debut is nothing less than astounding.
WRITTEN BY ALEX GILSTON / NOVEMBER 25, 2022
Details of a childhood holiday become fuzzier and often more sparse as you grow older and further away from the people who you were so connected to. This only makes the experience of recalling it a fonder one. The sun, the sea, and the sand. Days by the pool with your new best friends, as fleeting as they would be. Evenings watching red jacket performers that at the time were the be all and end all of entertainment, when in reality it was a bit naff. But most of all spending time with the people that mean the world to you; your family. Charlotte Wells’ directorial debut Aftersun puts all of this under a microscope, blending the captured and uncaptured to produce an emotionally compelling piece of film that for a debut is nothing less than astounding.
Aftersun follows Sophie (Celia Rowlson Hall) as she reminisces, through her younger self (Frankie Corio), about a holiday that she went on with her father Calum (Paul Mescal) twenty years ago to Turkey. Memories collide as home video footage, photography, and the patchier fragments of Sophie’s own recollection paints a picture that dives deeper than its rose-tinted surface.
Aftersun is an explicitly nostalgic experience transporting us to a time in our lives when nothing really mattered (well not beyond trying to get the high score on Dance Dance Revolution anyway). But the issues that didn’t trouble us more than definitely troubled our parents and the wonder is do they view these memories in the same way that we do, in fact do we even remember them the same. In a way Aftersun concludes that we were too young to know, blinded by the towering ice cream sundaes and bottomless Fanta Lemon, but even more so how were we meant to? Yes, Aftersun may mourn those bonds that were so strong you could never imagine they wouldn’t exist in the same way now. But at the same time it’s an unequivocal celebration of those moments that mean so much to us.
Aftersun is masterfully crafted. A slew of home video style footage is scattered amongst the film’s runtime. It drives home the datedness of the holiday along with some obligatory Steps. It also cleverly signifies the jigsaw puzzle that Sophie is trying to piece together, along with her own memories, to tell the whole story. In one instance we’re placed in Calum and Sophie’s hotel room. The camera is pointed at a boxy TV with the footage playing from their camcorder in real time. It’s such a beautiful representation of the reliable nature of filming life Vs the unreliable nature of trying to clearly remember those same events. Connection is also played with sublimely. The camera lingers on the slightest brush of an elbow or something more intimate like a kiss. Wells pinpoints the most memorable moments of a childhood holiday and frames the dialogue around them effectively.
Paul Mescal is dazzling as a father who holds a deep love for his daughter but is finding it challenging because of what he’s going through. He portrays the latter mainly through words unsaid as he tries to keep up a positive demeanor in front of Sophie. Frankie Corio makes her acting debut in Aftersun and it’s quite the achievement. Her chemistry with Paul Mescal is lightning in a bottle. It gives their relationship a pure authenticity that helps to tug on the heartstrings.
Charlotte Wells bares all in Aftersun in a deeply personal way. Be prepared to do the same in return and not just those formative memories you might still have lingering in the back of your mind from holidays past. But everything. We’re all so busy living life that it’s hard to stop for even one second to capture the smallest of things, a hug, a wave, a see you later, something so insignificant that may later become the most important memory you have. Being able to process all of that after just 100 minutes? Well that’s truly the power of Aftersun.