THE STORY – Sophie reflects on the shared joy and private melancholy of a holiday she took with her father twenty years earlier. Memories real and imagined fill the gaps between as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t.
THE CAST – Paul Mescal & Frankie Corio
THE TEAM – Charlotte Wells (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 96 Minutes
Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, there are one or two titles that catch fire and become the talk-of-the-croisette. Ruben Östlund’s raucous Palme d’Or-winning “Triangle of Sadness” made the most audible amount of noise this year (justifiably so). However, another film was on the tip of everybody’s lips and became a must-see sensation; “Aftersun.” The feature debut of Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells screened as part of the director’s fortnight section and is the little-indie-movie-that-could of not just this year’s Cannes Film Festival but of all of 2022. This special film has captured the hearts of all those who have seen it and will continue to do so for years to come. It’s why we keep coming back to the cinema: to discover exciting new voices and be completely absorbed in a story.
What’s remarkable about “Aftersun” (besides this being the debut of Wells) is how unremarkable and yet utterly captivating the story is. Set in the nineties, the plot follows a young single dad named Calum (Paul Mescal) who takes his spright 11-year-old daughter Sophie (breakout newcomer Frankie Corio) on a summer holiday to Turkey – and that’s pretty much it. For a film that lacks very little dramatic tension or conflict, Wells keeps you firmly and emotionally engaged throughout the breezy 95-minute runtime.
Sometimes, the little films about everything and nothing ring true the hardest and leave audiences the most moved. Stories that aren’t particularly flashy but manage to capture the beauty within the mundane little moments of life. “Aftersun” is one of those movies that will leave you weeping in your seat and wanting to call your parents after you’re done. Drawing from her own experiences with her father, Wells explores the dynamics of this paternal relationship without ever resorting to clichéd domestic squabbling that you’d typically expect from a premise like this. Thanks to her honest script and the marvelous performances from her two actors, it is joyful simply watching this father and daughter duo hanging out on vacation, discussing life, romance, drugs, hopes, and dreams with such candor.
Wells crafts a dignified two-person character study that is heartwarming but tinged with sadness. Her screenplay perfectly balances the two perspectives of the relationship allowing you to empathize with both characters. Sophie represents the bliss of youth as well the excitement of pending independence. At the same time, Calum represents the melancholy of youth-gone-by. Given the relatively small age gap between the two of them, Calum is often mistaken for Sophie’s older brother. While Sophie is clearly the light of his life, the drawback to becoming a father so young is that Calum sacrificed most of his own adolescence in the process. In a very touching scene that sees father and daughter sharing one single bedspread, Calum laments to his daughter that life didn’t exactly turn out the way he wanted, but we can see he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an absolute lightning-in-a-bottle pairing of actors, quality writing, and beautiful direction. The chemistry they share and the magic they create you can’t fake or teach.
Mescal’s ability to show internal hardship and regret with such subtlety is the reason why he is fast becoming one of the most sought-after talents of his generation. He’s had a tremendous few years with meaty projects such as “Normal People,” “The Lost Daughter,” and his other hard-hitting drama to premiere at Cannes this year; “God’s Creatures.” Meanwhile, Frankie Corio is a revelation as Sophie. She effortlessly commands the screen with an emotional maturity well beyond her years. You would not know this was her first time in front of the camera from watching her performance. Memorize her name now, as this girl is undoubtedly destined for stardom.
“Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” director Barry Jenkins served as an executive producer on “Aftersun,” and one can practically feel his steady guiding hand is resting on Wells’ shoulder. Given Jenkins’ propensity for creating films that sizzle with poetic chemistry, you can see he’s passed down sage advice to Wells on how to formulate an atmosphere that’s effulgent enough to bottle. It takes most filmmakers years of trial-and-error to master what Wells has accomplished on a first try. She confidently allows the story to flow naturally with a lazy holiday pace without ever becoming stagnant. Her ability to capture a moment in time is outstanding and extraordinarily impactful. Anybody that’s ever been on a package holiday to Europe will feel an immediate kinship with her story, and those who haven’t will still feel something anyway. Her emphasis on the little details; the arcade games, evening karaoke, doubles games of pool, screaming children at water parks, and eager holiday representatives cringingly trying to get tourists to do the Macarena – it’s all so familiar and makes “Aftersun” such an emotionally resonant watch. She also takes some risks with her narrative structure which certainly pays off, particularly with the last shot, which is slightly abstract but will bring a tear to your eye, leaving the audience on an achingly bittersweet note. She also uses brief flash-forwards that help recontextualizes the camcorder holiday footage that bookends the entire film.
“Aftersun” is a little miracle of a film that marks the ceremonious arrival of both filmmaker Charlotte Wells and her young star Frankie Corio. It also features a never-better performance from Paul Mescal, which at the very least should generate some awards-season discussion for the young 26-year-old Irish actor. Thanks to Wells’ wonderfully human characters, astute direction, and stellar performances, “Aftersun” truly is about the little moments that seem insignificant at the time but become the precious stuff we treasure as adults. It’s the type of film we’re lucky to have in our lives as it offers the viewer a window into the soul of a sensitive and wonderful new storyteller.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A spellbinding debut from Charlotte Wells with two stellar performances by Mescal and Corio. This is a quietly powerful paternal drama that touches the heart and the soul.
THE BAD – Nothing. This really is something special.
THE OSCARS – Best Actor (Nominated)
THE FINAL SCORE – 10/10