A father-daughter relationship that deserves to be called “heartbreaking and poignant.”
Underneath its melancholy tone, “Aftersun” is a movie that can’t speak its mind, but can be poignant in its story about a Turkey trip for a Scottish girl and the young father she doesn’t know too much about. She lives with her mom, and visits him for this little trip. It’s a somber and emotional low key masterpiece from writer/director Charlotte Wells, who likes to call it “emotionally autobiographical.”
The young girl is named Sophie, and she’s played in two uniformly excellent portrayals. The tween version is played by Frankie Corio, while the adult version is by Celia Towson-Hall. And out of the two of them, Corio gets the most screen time, and she’s filled with such youth and charm, without succumbing to the cliches regarding a daughter and her divorced father. In fact, it’s set in the 90s, a time I would love to revisit, especially the way they use video cameras and play their footage on small TV sets. And when we do get to her as an adult, she acknowledges her relationship with her father better.
The father, who looks like an older brother considering his age, is named Calum, and he’s played by Irish young actor Paul Mescal (“The Lost Daughter”). At this point, the actor is 26-years-old, so it’s obvious his character had Sophie in his teens. He provides moments of pure sentimentality and tears, and wondrous images of how he swims in the ocean, practices Tai Chi, dances to David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” and sobs in the nude, and so forth.
I’m sorry if I’m late with this review, but I had to work out my movie schedule, and wasn’t sure if I could fit it in. I was wrong to doubt, and I was wrong to nearly miss “Aftersun,” because it is magnificent. It’s a meditation on a trip that doesn’t resort to plot complications, even we can’t always understand the Scottish dialogue (with all respect), but rather how this girl sees her father or wishes she could understand more about him, since she lives with her mother, who shall remain nameless.
When I read the credits, I found out Barry Jenkins produced it. Now that I think about it, parts of it feel like it captures his Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.” I’m talking about the swimming sequences and how we see the girl as both a tween and adult with curiosity. It’s more like a meditation of life, and it’s poignant.
But even if I did see his name in the credits before I saw the movie, we shouldn’t just single him out. Charlotte Wells (whose short film credits include “Laps,” “Tuesday” and “Blue Christmas), makes her feature debut in a relaxing sense, and guides the actors with truthful and challenging roles. The movie hints at the young father’s struggles, based on his moods and emotions, and we’re only able to see it through the girl’s perspective. When you age, you begin to understand, or at least try to understand, the reality of your childhood and parents. Presented through Sophie’s eyes, it’s never irritating nor condescending. It’s authentic and beautiful.
Sitting through “Aftersun” is like a trip to the spa when nobody interrupts you, and you’re able to relax and feel the vibrations all around you. This movie vibrates all the way through-whether Sophie has a quick romance with a boy named Michael (Brooklyn Toulson) or playing pool with some older men or trying to put sunscreen on herself or spending time with her dad. It’s a movie that leaves your curious about the lives of these two characters, and you just hope for the best for them.
It’s one of the year’s best films.