A thirty-year-old father, Calum (Paul Mescal), takes his eleven-year-old daughter, Sophie (newcomer Frankie Corio), on a budget holiday to a Turkish seaside resort in Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun. It’s the 1990s, and Blur and Chumbawamba are in the air. “In a remarkably assured feature debut, Wells somehow merges elliptical, near-abstract impressions of an unresolved father-daughter bond with sharp social-realist observation of Brits abroad,” writes Leigh Singer in Sight and Sound. “Certainly, anyone who’s ever experienced the doubtful glories of the cheap Mediterranean package holiday will nod in rueful recognition at the scaffolding-clad hotel, or a joyless tour reps-led Macarena.”
Between dips in the pool, karaoke, and billiards, Calum and Sophie take turns aiming a mini-DV recorder at each other, and in brief flashes to the present, an adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) watching the footage sees that her younger self inadvertently captured a few moments when Calum let his guard down. There was clearly an unnamed something weighing heavily on his mind. “Aftersun languishes in the choppiness of the long-passé home video image, using its fuzziness to evoke the unreliability of memory and inexorable passing of time,” writes Pat Brown at Slant.
Aftersun “comes as close as any film I can recall to giving grief a cinematic form that does not seek to explicate but instead embody its very instability,” writes Matthew Eng at Reverse Shot. “Using slow, gauzy dissolves and era-bridging cuts, Wells and [editor Blair] McClendon portray this vacation as a tapestry of vivid faces, totemic objects, uncanny textures, clashing sounds, and other scattered memories. Dramatic incident and linear causality are not priorities for Wells, who allows her film fleeting, lulling longueurs of sun-sapped fatigue and encroaching malaise.”
Writing for Cinema Scope,Jason Anderson finds that Aftersun “oscillates between a keen specificity and a hazy, memories-half-remembered quality that connects it with antecedents like Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher (1999) and its sunnier, stranger successor Morvern Callar (2002). That quality also connects it with Wells’s own Blue Christmas (2017), the Robbie Ryan–shot short that anticipated Aftersun in its story of family bonds fraying due to a loved one’s mental health crisis.” Wells “continually finds the means of hitting all her notes without the showier bravado or on-the-nose bids for profundity and poignancy that mar so many first features.”
When Aftersun premiered in the Critics’ Week program in Cannes, where it won the first of several awards it’s picked up so far this year, Guy Lodge observed in Variety that the film is “perfectly served by Mescal’s signature brand of softboi gentleness—here shown maturing and creasing into more hardened, troubled masculinity—and the vitality of Corio, whose deft, lovely performance braids both authentic exuberance and a girlishness that feels more performed, as if for the benefit of her dad.”
Robert Daniels (RogerEbert.com) and Marshall Shaffer (Slant) have each caught Wells at separate points along her tour of international festivals to talk with her about Aftersun, which opens on Friday in the U.S. and next month in the UK.
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