Aftersun – Film Review

Aftersun – Film Review
by Brian Merriman

Writer/Director: Charlotte Wells
Cinematography: Gregory Oke
Music by: Oliver Coates
Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Cario

Production companies: BBC Film; British Film Institute; Screen Scotland; Tango Entertainment; Pastel Productions; Unified Theory

Aftersun received 16 nominations for the upcoming 2022 British Independent Film Awards.

‘Aftersun’ is the latest movie to star Irish actor Paul Mescal. This considerable star finds himself unusually cast as a father of an eleven-year-old girl, ‘Sophie’ in a strong debut by Frankie Cario. There is a line in the script that points this anomaly out ‘what is your sister’s name?’ And it remains an anomaly, but perhaps the opportunity of casting the talented Mescal (Calum) was just too big to be missed. His ‘Normal People’ trademark capacity to do naked scenes also features… but briefly.

Aftersun’s plotline is slow to evolve on screen. It is presented like a compilation of old holiday movies. I found myself speculating that the thinness of the plot over the 96 minutes, was being ably compensated for by the director, who takes charge and tells this story visually, where words miss out. This makes sense, as the writer Charlotte Wells is also the director. This artistic combination is essential to the mainly implied plot, which won an award at Cannes recently (Critics’ Week Grand Prize – nominated and won French Touch Prize of the Jury – Charlotte Wells).

The holiday movies show lots of swimming, paragliding, sun, and suncream. The resort hotel is two-star which limits the scope of Oke’s cinematography to inspire somewhat. Add into that a lot of flashbacks that really only resolve themselves at the end, and there is not a huge amount of visual stimulation as the viewer must work to resolve all of the hinted facets of their stories.

Sophie lives with her Mother in Edinburgh and the Scottish accents do take a moment for the ear to tune in. There is also a little ‘queerness’ in the story but it is a subplot in a tale where ‘Sophie’ comes of age, observing young adult holidaymakers, becoming aware of their relationships, as she spends a two-week holiday with her separated father.

Mescal and Cario’s on-screen relationship really works. The thin plot is illuminated by the naturalistic performances of the two central characters. Cario’s maturity goes way beyond her role and this is a real talent to watch. Her expression is relaxed, communicative and emotional. The intimacy of the small resort hotel room is well-managed and the comfortable physical relationship between father and daughter resonates. It is quite an achievement.

This film is a memory of the adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson Hall), now a parent herself. Memory is often unreliable and can play tricks. Though this seems to be the purpose of the plot, it is secondary to our main experience of the holiday relationship, which leaves an indelible mark, not only on Sophie, but also on us.

Calum has a lot of issues, which he temporarily pushes aside to spend this annual ‘quality time’ with Sophie. We only glimpse them in symptoms or outcomes, but they are always there close to the surface and Sophie understands this aspect of her father well. His one constant is Sophie and his commitment to her is palpable and vice versa. It is the heart of this movie and is well delivered.

Awards are flying around ‘Aftersun’. It has a different pace and structure than many of its ilk. It is worth sticking with and is more an episode of a much greater, darker, untold story.

Will we ever see that story roll out (in a sequel?) or are we to rely on our own imagination, to resolve the many questions at the end? If it is our responsibility as viewers, then that may well be the real skill of the piece. It fed my imagination and brought me in many directions that allowed me to empathise with the two central characters, to leap and conclude the plot and to admire the integrity of the impact of their enduring relationship. It is slow, different and thought-provoking.

Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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