Movie Review: Aftersun

At its most basic level, Scottish writer / director Charlotte Wells’ debut feature is about a woman named Sophie (Frankie Corio as a child and Celia Rowlson-Hall as an adult) recalling a holiday trip she had taken with her father Calum (Paul Mescal) to Turkey when she was eleven years old. As such, there isn’t much of a plot per se, instead we are presented with a sequence of moments that Sophie recalls, mixing those that are just pleasantly peaceful with those that would prove more formative to her adult self.

Calum wants her to spend time with other children at the resort that are closer to her own age, but she is beginning to feel too mature for that and so finds herself drawn towards the older teenagers as she begins to take the first tentative steps towards leaving her own childhood behind. Her father, amiably divorced from her mother, is going through his own difficulties, wrestling with inner demons brought on by his upbringing, which he struggles to hide from Sophie. Paul Mescal is heartbreaking in the role, switching it up between love and happiness with his daughter to deeply simmering pain when he simply can’t hold it in anymore.

The movie glides along at a languorous pace, perhaps a little too much so at times, and is often shot somewhat obliquely, with conversations taking place off camera and being presented to us via shadows or reflections. Sometimes this serves to dampen the effect of the pair of excellent performances at the movie’s core, but it also comments on the very nature of memory, with what we can recall of our pasts never really being the entire picture. Interspersed scenes of adult Sophi, watching the DV footage captured on the trip make it clear that the memories are bittersweet for her, and that something bad is coming. Wells makes it relatively clear just what it is without ever spelling it out, while still managing to deliver a final moment that so artfully rips your heart out it can illicit a tear or two just thinking about it later, the same way some of our memories sometimes do. ★★★★★

rated r for some language and brief sexual material.

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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