AFTERSUN. A beautiful masterpiece

Best holidays ever.

Maja Budka

21 July 2023


This will be a review of the genre: raptures. Though they didn’t come right away. While watching the movie, I had so many emotions that it took me a while to digest and analyze them. Now I know that Aftersun is a beautiful film. It shows little, but conveys a lot.

Father, daughter and videotapes

Aftersun is the feature debut (!) of Charlotte Wells. In the oeuvre of the Scottish woman, there is only one short film. This fact makes me even more amazed by the maturity, sincerity and multidimensionality of her latest production. This film is painfully personal and certainly bears the hallmarks of autobiography.

It’s hard to say what Aftersun is all about. And I don’t know if talking about it makes sense in this movie. Staying afloat is the story of a young 30-year-old father and his 12-year-old daughter who spend their holidays in a cheap Turkish resort in the late 1990s. Idyllic landscapes, undulating sea, lazy afternoons are memories that adult Sophie brings to the surface in her memory, watching recordings from that time years later. As an adult woman, she decides to remember the happiest moments she shared with her father.

They both enjoy spending time together. They bathe, dive, eat ice-cream, enjoy the typical entertainment of resorts. They draw as much as possible from their presence, unable to be with each other every day. Calum tries his best to cover up his self-loathing, but his daughter understands and reads it more accurately than he could have expected.

Occasional friction is a natural part of the father-adolescent relationship. They do not bear signs of traumatic or toxic behavior. However, there is something important beneath the surface. In addition to fleeting memories of holidays, Wells puts scenes that seem to be mismatched pieces of the puzzle, flashes. The situations that take place between turning the camera off and on again are mysterious, taken out of context, full of understatements. However, they tell us more about the complicated father-daughter relationship than colorful holiday postcards.

However, little should be said about this film. Aftersun is taken subcutaneously. He realizes how artificial and excessive it may sound, but the film is better compared to an experience, a film experience, than to an ordinary screening. Almost nothing of what is most important happens here literally, openly, directly. The main materials from which Wells creates his image are impressions, fleeting emotions, saved memories, home videos. Calum and Sophie’s relationship is parenthesized. We learn about the emotions inherent in them mainly by reading between the lines. This is a very dreamy film, at times putting you in a trance, intriguing with beautiful picturesque frames. That’s because Wells is trying to capture the elusive here. However, I am extremely pleased that such a risky film experiment as Aftersun turned out so well and so beautifully.

Wells brilliantly uses the growing anxiety, presenting idyllic holiday pictures, which, however, are mercilessly invaded by a sense of fear, tension, as if something was hanging in the air about to be detonated. At times, the film could even be accused of being a thriller. However, nothing groundbreaking, disturbing the sleepy static of the film, happens. What is most important can be read from instant gestures, glances, words thrown carelessly, as if casually, but with a huge emotional charge. They slip away unnoticed, but in fact they make the whole story tremble like an imperceptible earthquake. There are scenes that make you want to stop for longer, analyze them, find out what their underside is. However, the film focuses not on lengthy analyses, but on honest, immediate experiences.

Charlotte Wells’ debut is a film about suppressed emotions that find no outlet. Therefore, not much happens in the film, which can be boring for many viewers. Wells has taken the hard road. She decided that what was most important for the reception of her story would be closed in parentheses, not showing but suggesting. However, those who get into the story will very clearly feel the pain, fear, immense longing and immense love that come from below the surface and evaporate from the characters of Calum and Sophie, but they will never be expressed directly.

Aftersun is an attempt at a film confrontation between an adult daughter and her father, whom she could not fully understand several years ago, but now understands much more clearly. This is an attempt to settle accounts with their shared past. A beautiful and tender attempt to reach the scraps of memories and feelings for the now absent parent. There comes a point in every adult’s life when we begin to understand our parents better and see them as part of a larger perspective. People who did not appear in the world when we were born. Sophie, who has just become a parent herself, is just realizing this, and Aftersun is her journey through these fascinating and tender thoughts. That’s why this movie touches everyone differently.

Aftersun is also a unique and painfully honest portrayal of parenthood in contemporary cinema. This is possible not only thanks to Wells’ skill, but also thanks to the magnetic duo of actors Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio. With their help, the nuanced father-daughter relationship resonates so well on screen. Queen and David Bowie in Under Pressure will never sound the same again.

Maja Budka

Maja Budka

I write about film and art with a cat on the keyboard. I like animation and films lined with gentle absurdity.

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