Aftersun (2022)
Aftersun (2022)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: October 21st, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Charlotte Wells Actors: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall

 


 

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aleidoscopic, stroke-inducing editing introduces “Aftersun” as a (presumably) Scottish father and daughter arrive to a hotel for a sunny holiday in Turkey. Immediately, however, there are minor inconveniences, such as only a single bed in their room, despite the travel agency confirming that there would be two. Nevertheless, the duo are determined to have a grand time, relaxing in the sun, swimming in the sea, visiting a theme park, going to a spa, and eating at restaurants. Neither one does much mingling, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying themselves.

Right from the start, the camera acts almost as another character, observing actions from nearby, but generally refusing to dictate feelings or become intrusive. It’s as if an outsider joining a group of people at a table or poolside, or sitting in with a crowd, studying and noting but saying nothing. It captures routine activities and commonplace conversations, occasionally through the use of an in-story videocamera, as father Calum Paterson (Paul Mescal) and preteen Sophie (Frankie Corio) document their vacation with recordings or photographs. In many ways, it resembles watching a super high-quality home video. And the sound design is comparable, as it largely dispenses with complementary music for the sake of background noises and relevant in-frame sound effects.

“You can be whoever you want. You have time.” Calum is divorced, so this trip is an opportunity to spend some quality time with his daughter. Therefore, standard, touristy events populate their itinerary; and nothing particularly compelling transpires. It’s exceptionally realistic though, appearing as a slice-of-life narrative, and oftentimes sweet in its simpleness and calmness; it doesn’t need cinematic ups and downs to be pleasing and to feel genuine. And this two-person show boasts exceptionally convincing performances; never once do they come across as anything but real. Of course, at a certain point, the ordinariness or mundanity grows curious, despite a sliver of a focus on budding sexuality. Is there a story to be told here? Is something consequential going to take place? Or is it all just a tranquil meditation?

The longer the film goes on, the more the timeline is interrupted by brief shots from different periods, suggesting that the bulk of what viewers are seeing is a flashback, supplemented by recorded footage as watched by an adult Sophie. But the significance of the holiday itself takes a poignant turn when Sophie’s father insists that she should always feel comfortable with telling him anything – including about boys. And that her preference not to say anything at all is okay as well. It’s a comforting, emotional thought – and one that resonates, even when the picture closes rather abruptly, intent on concealing some of its meaning through its cryptic editing and metaphorical imagery, suggesting that Sophie’s youthful perspective can’t grasp everything going on in her father’s complicated adult life. Audiences, too, aren’t likely to piece together all the clues, though that’s surely part of the point; from a child’s mindset, the responsibilities of adulthood and the likelihood of psychological stresses are unknowable. It’s strangely moving, and a joyous examination of a father/daughter relationship, but it’s ultimately too ambiguous and ephemeral to be game-changing or unforgettable.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10