There’s something painful about acknowledging that your parents are just as human as you are, with their own wants, needs, and complexities. Parenthood is a responsibility that is not welcomed by everyone; many are struggling, trying to do the best they can, no matter what circumstances they have to operate in. “Aftersun” delicately highlights the emotional turmoil of being a provider and the duplicity of our memory.
“Aftersun” is written and directed by Charlotte Wells in her film debut and stars the equally graceful Paul Mescal (“Normal People,” “The Lost Daughter” (2021)) and Frankie Corio (in her acting debut ) as Calum and Sophie, a father-daughter duo vacationing in Turkey. Celia Rowson-Hall plays an adult Sophie, who reminisces about that vacation with her father years later.
Distributed by A24, the film’s producers include Barry Jenkins, who directed and co-wrote Best Picture-winning ‘Moonlight’ (2016). Jenkins’ inclusion in this project seems rather fitting, as the narrative and visual character of his work seems to be a critical touchpoint for Wells with “Aftersun.”
Told in part through fragmented home video footage, the film’s episodic narrative merely drifts between sequences like the ebb and flow of the waves Calum and Sophie happily splash toward the start of the film. Sophie alternates between past and present states, reveling in the awkward joy of being reunited with her estranged father over quiet meals and sunny frolics at their compound.
There’s a constant sense of melancholy that pervades every interaction between Sophie and her father, as if the shiny facade of their vacation could crumble at any moment, no matter how jovial they seem. In one of the oldest and most moving sequences in the film, the camera lingers on Sophie lying awake in her bed in the foreground, her father in the background separated by a sliding door. Outside on the balcony, bathed in silver moonlight, her father desperately tries to light a cigarette with a broken wrist. It’s one of many instances in the film where the audience’s perception of Calum aligns with that of Sophie, who only realizes the seriousness of her father’s fallibility as an adult. Although aloof and scared, Calum desperately yearns to provide stability for his daughter.
The film’s emotional impact is maximized by its consistently stellar visual compositions and compelling editing choices. Shot on location in Turkey, the film works mostly in intoxicating blue hues; daydreams melt into each other as the blue sky mingles with the crystal clear waters.
Cinematographer Gregory Oke frames his subjects with magnificent empathy; the shots of a young Sophie smiling at her father are warm, joyful and radiant with daylight, which contrasts with the uncertainty and darkness of the footage filming an adult Sophie trying to reconcile the man she thought she was his father who he was actually with (whose film shares few concrete details).
In a remarkable sequence, a lonely Sophie comes across a group of teenagers near the resort’s pool pushing each other through the water, their bodies intertwining and mingling like fish in the sea. Sophie stares in wonder at the eyes wide-eyed, his perspective filtered through the fluid, shifting underwater cinematography. There’s a hazy sheen to every memory that fleshes out the film’s narrative, which is complemented by the cinematography.
The visual effects of glitchy home video footage obscure Sophie’s memories of her father, adding an eerie nuance to what initially appear to be joyous memories. The film’s expansive visuals provide viewers with a gateway to the rich inner life of Sophie and her father.
To be frank, “Aftersun” left a slightly lukewarm feeling with several unanswered questions. Many uncertainties arise about Calum and his relationship with Sophie, as well as the exact identity of adult Sophie, but the film doesn’t seem interested in guiding viewers to any definitive conclusions about the characters it portrays.
The heart of this film revolves around the tender chemistry between Mescal and Corio, whose unwavering determination to love each other (for better or worse) elevates these already written characters in impressive fashion. “Aftersun” may not satisfy every movie buff’s cravings, but it fits right into A24’s existing library and serves as a moving showcase of Mescal and Corio’s top-notch performances and directing ability. of Wells.