Friday, November 11, 2022

Aftersun - Review


Memories often betray us. They conjure up a past that never existed, or at least existed in a very different reality than what we actually lived. Yet, we hold onto them, sometimes for dear life as if they were the last piece of wreckage saving us from a watery grave. Aftersun seeks to explore how memories craft an expression of someone, a conjuring of someone from imperfect recollections and materialize that in our minds to try and better understand them after time has passed. 

Twenty years removed from a holiday to Turkey with her father, Sophie reflects on the time spent together. At 11-years-old, Sophie has the whole world in front of her, but at 31-years-old, the same age her father was on the aforementioned vacation, she begins to reconcile the father she knew and the man she never could. 

The vacation is seemingly insignificant, and certainly, nothing to write home about. The days at the faltering seaside resort are filled with lazy days by the pool and plenty of late night people watching, amongst the sounds of fun and construction. But the rapport between father and daughter is to be cherished, and often, could be mistaken for a sibling relationship based on how easy and honest they talk to one another. 

However, there is more playing out in the quiet moments, in shots that linger, asking us to look closer. Director and writer Charlotte Wells has not been quiet about her first feature film having a personal influence, and the whole things feels like someone assembling a collage of faded memories and grainy photographs into some scrapbook of a life long gone. There are moments unmarred by time, a conversation here, a dance there, but most of the film is viewed through tinted glasses, trying to find signs of what was really going on with her father Calum. 

The dynamic between Calum and Sophie, as mentioned before, is incredible. The performances from Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio sell this relationship completely, and make the emotional moments hit even harder. Corio is tasked with playing an 11-year-old that’s just on the edge of being old enough for a great deal of things that catch her eye. She’s not tall enough to parasail, but she watch them in the distance and remember fondly. She’s not old enough to observe the teenagers and their desires, but can only steal a game of pool here or there with them, and watch as they enjoy the freedoms you get when you age. 

Mescal, on the other hand, has to bury and portray so many emotions in one scene to the next that’s it’s truly remarkable how much he is able to convey. Calum is a man who has seemingly had many things go wrong in life, and yet, he puts on a smile for Sophie, even when she knows it’s fake. He finds the smallest ways to let the audience in on his pain, while refusing to admit it out loud to anyone around him. Combine this with Wells’ excellent direction in getting just exquisite framing for some of these scenes and you get one of the most heartbreaking performances of the year.

Aftersun is sneaky. No, it’s not hiding any big twist or reveal, but it’s sneaky in the way that it creeps up on you in its final moments. The whole film carries a sense of melancholy, but it’s not easy to pin down why, and that’s a choice from Wells herself. Is this all how it actually happened? Or are there moments concocted to fill in the gaps in Sophie’s memory? Was this trip a choice by Calum to create some happy memories? Or are the memories themselves tainted by the inevitable future? One thing Aftersun makes abundantly clear: memories will eventually come back to haunt us, no matter how seemingly happy they may have been.

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