TL;DR – An emotional whirlwind – Stunning, Beautiful, and Heartbreaking.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid to see this film
Warning – This film contains a lot of flashing lights.
Aftersun Review –
If one film has been bubbling away in my subconscious since last October, it was Aftersun. Everyone who had seen it spoke of it almost like a transcendent experience, but it has taken a long time to make it down to my realm and longer for me to make it to the cinema. However, if the saying all good things come to those who wait had a physical manifestation, it would be Aftersun.
So to set the scene, it is sometime in the past [I think the late 1990s before everyone had mobile phones], and Calum (Paul Mescal) goes on a family trip to Turkey with his daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio). Sophie lives with her mother, which is a chance for them to bond, but there is some apparent awkwardness for all. Calum is trying to build a relationship, while Sophie is at the age where she is finding her independence. Is this trip the start of something better or the beginning of the end?
I think this was a hard film to watch because it was so familiar to me, even though I have never been to Turkey/Türkiye. That nostalgia came from a time and a vibe. Seeing that footage from the camera that is interspaced throughout the film ripped me back in time in a way I have never entirely experienced before. The overexposure, dinky framing, creaking lens, and blocky pixelization were the perfect personification of what those early cameras were like. I was watching footage like this over last Christmas, so it was wild to be taken back to that place on the big screen.
There are no scenes in this film that do not feature Calum or Sophie, and most feature both. Without a solid, authentic bond, this film would simply not work. At no point during the film’s highs and lows did I not believe entirely they were family. There is a distance, sure, but there is also a depth to their relationship. Paul Mescal doing his funky dance will be one of those images that will stick with me with all its chaotic energy. Frankie Corio also captures that almost forced maturity needed for someone in her situation.
We then get to the next level, which is the visual presentation. This movie has some of the most creative framings with mirrors and screens. There is one moment where we can see Calum performing Tai chi off-screen through a mirror before he bursts into the foreground as he performs one of the stances. Then there are the times when the camera lingers for significantly longer than it should, but they always feel instructive, never indulgent. It all creates an intimacy that almost makes you feel like you are a fly on the wall of a real family on holiday.
All of this would have created a good foundation for a fine dramatic film; however, Aftersun takes this to the next level, and it is this that emotionally crushed me. However, to talk about that next level, we need to talk about [SPOILERS] from now on. This exploration of a past trip to Turkey is all framed through the prism of an older Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) looking back on these moments now that she herself is a mother. However, these are not fun reminiscences of the past but almost a forensic exploration of a moment before fracture. We see Sophie progressing through time, but Calum is stuck in those few moments as the doors close, and Sophie leaves to come home.
The film never explains if that break happens because Sophie and Calum grew apart, so that it could be their emotional connection is rooted in this last good memory. I felt that Calum is rooted in that time, because he never left it. There are these moments where he smokes when no one is looking, even though he admonishes others for it, something dims his awareness of his surroundings, and the thought of a birthday is painful to him even though he puts on it a brave face. But this is a film that refuses to give you absolutes, and instead of that being a thematic copout, you can feel it was a deliberate choice to bring an emotional reaction from you.
Oh, and on that notion of emotion, this film strikes when you expect it. It is, in many ways, a slow burn, like watching the tide roll in. But it is also mischievous in the way it overwhelms you in places. Much of this emotion comes from the performances; both Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio should be championed for their work here. But it also comes from the narrative that follows the Biblical advice of planting the wind to reap the whirlwind. Every little movement is essential for that ending to land as it does. It is the power of a perfect match-cut, or fragmented nature of memory. All sides reinforce a film that is almost experimental in the way it dabbles with time and place.
In the end, do we recommend Aftersun? Absolutely. Every detail in this film serves the primary goal of bringing a wave of emotions to the viewer. It makes you think back to your own Turkish holidays or personifications and what they say about you. After Creed III, this is the second début director that has knocked my socks off this week, also my double 5/5 stars for the week, and I hope that means that 2023 is in store for many more stories that move the soul. If you liked Aftersun, I would recommend to you After Yang.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Aftersun
Directed by – Charlotte Wells
Written by – Charlotte Wells
Music by – Oliver Coates
Cinematography by – Gregory Oke
Edited by – Blair McClendon
Production/Distribution Companies – BBC Film, Screen Scotland, Tango Entertainment, British Film Institute, Pastel Productions, Unified Theory, Mubi, A24 & Kismet Movies
Starring – Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio & Celia Rowlson-Hall, Sally Messham, with Brooklyn Toulson, Spike Fearn, Harry Perdios, Ruby Thompson, Ethan James Smith & Kayleigh Coleman
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: R
Devastated. Physically and emotionally overwhelmed by it. Brilliant and real film (speaking as a single Mum who recalls only too well that sense of being thrust into and unprepared for the realities of adulthood) and how this impacts no doubt – the psyche – of the child, however much love is felt. I’m only a couple of hours post cinema and I’m still grappling with the way it has caused the rearing up of and subsequent slaying – of a few demons I’d thought well submerged, within my psyche. The Last Dance – the rave scenes – this is where the pain was most excruciating, but where, like for Sophie they become flashbacks – the beginning of its purging, too
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