|Directed by:||Charlotte Wells|
|Written by:||Charlotte Wells|
|Starring:||Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall|
|Released:||February 23, 2023|
It’s amazing what power an old family photo or an old home movie can wield. They have the ability to revive long forgotten moments and to clarify those which have been unknowingly altered over time. Who hasn’t looked at a photo album and thought about the past? They remind us of people no longer in our lives – whether it be because they’ve passed away, or because they now live different lives which don’t intersect with our own.
These thoughts are at the emotional core of Aftersun, a blisteringly good debut feature from Scottish-born director Charlotte Wells. Since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May, the film has been fuelled by positive word of mouth and remained in the minds of filmgoers. It’s now reached the point where 26-year-old star Paul Mescal (Normal People) has been nominated at the Academy Awards for best actor, and Wells has received a nod by her peers at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards in the first-time theatrical feature film director category.
Aftersun is the story of a woman (Rowlson-Hall) quietly reflecting on a low-budget holiday she shared with her father in Turkey two decades earlier. Part of her musings are based off footage from a well-worn, non-digital video camera used to capture a handful of innocuous moments from the trip. This includes a brief clip in the hotel room where the naïve, 11-year-old Sophie (Corio) asks her reserved, 31-year-old dad (Mescal) about his life goals growing up. It might have been a simple question at the time, but it now carries an incredible potency given Sophie is a mature, hardened adult with a child of her own.
The remainder of Sophie’s holiday reflections come from memory. Some scenes could be described as “coming of age” as she hangs out with older kids, befriends a nice boy, and develops a sense of independence – free from the burden of constant adult supervision. Other scenes tap into the complex connection between parent and child. Looking through a Sophie’s eyes, there are instances when Dad is a cool best friend (going to karaoke, buying a Turkish rug) and instances when he’s a semi-detached stranger. It raises a question about how much kids really understand about their parents and whether that changes with age?
Paul Mescal and newcomer Frankie Corio are unforgettable in the leading roles. Wells has written simple, realistic dialogue which makes the relationship between the pair feel real and honest. Wells also deserves praise for the way she transitions between the two timeframes. This is particularly evident during the film’s climax which is both beautiful and devastating. Likely to stick with you after the closing credits have rolled, Aftersun is as good as cinema gets.