Aftersun is the most heartwrenching presentation of nostalgia that captures perfectly the magic of childhood, with the difficulties retrospectively now as adults.
Aftersun easily fools audiences as being anything other than Charlotte Wells’ directorial debut as its flawlessness suggests years of mastery.
Wells as both director, and writer beautifully weaves a paternal storyline delving into father-daughter dynamics, as well as the psyche of how each generation fits into the world around them.
Paul Mescal delivers a capturing performance as an early-30s father (Calum) on a Turkish holiday with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie, mesmerisingly brought to life by newcomer Frankie Corio. But in each moment the pair spend together, they skirt around their own insecurities.
For Calum, his nihilistic low mental health state is in partnership with crippling financial debt, as Sophie peers through the keyhole into adolescence manoeuvring social and romantic situations.
Yet when individually they struggle, together they show tenderness. An embrace of youth, with both Sophie being too old to play with the kids, and Calum too young to socialise with the adults.
In truth, the beauty of the film comes packaged as vignettes of the character’s collective nostalgia, delivered to audiences through its universality.
I too share memories of being in Turkey as a child sitting in cheap white PVC chairs, with all-inclusive mocktails, playing cards at candlelight whilst soft music played into the late night. The holidays where you scamper off with the other kids to play whatever game kept you entertained before the villa’s rep came around herding you into some deceiving water-based obstacle course all the while parents sleep on the bone-dry towels they got up early to lay.
Beyond all this, the blocking, a term used to explain how an actor moves through a scene as given by the director, as given to Mescal is subtle but adds so much. Partnered with cinematographer Gregory Oke’s precision, Calum is limited to possessing an insignificant portion of each frame, whilst Sophie, full of innocence and joy fills every frame, usually taking up two-thirds in any instance.
A broken man is limited to appearing through reflections or blocked off by lines formed from the scene. However, as Sophie unweaves her father’s burdens he begins sharing the frame with her yet keeps primarily to a singular third.
The weight of Aftersun hits as the credits roll. Its golden sanded beaches and gleeful childlike wonder are bottled up as a piece of unobtainable happiness as we yearn and wish to immortalise ourselves in a place of tranquillity and supposed peace of our once was.
Yet, the reality is worlds apart and the film knows it.
Named after a product applied on holiday too late after the damage has been done is exactly why Aftersun nails its execution.
The heat of love burns bright, and while all intentions are to warm its affected, all too easily can damage be done.
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