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Aftersun: A nostalgic, heart-breaking look at childhood memories

Charlotte Wells’ seemingly light-hearted holiday film poignantly deals with the topics of maturing and a bound-to-crumble father-daughter relationship.

Aftersun film

Charlotte Wells’ debut feature film lets us peer into a family’s past before the present-day reality unmasks itself.

Familiar, but in a way that is far behind us, Aftersun opens with camcorder footage of just-turned eleven-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) on a resort holiday in Turkey with her dad, Calum (Paul Mescal). This seemingly happy opening slowly dissolves in front of us as clips start to cut together unsettlingly. I saw Aftersun at the Seville European Film Festival and was amazed at how poignantly a seemingly light-hearted holiday film could deal with the topics of maturing and a bound-to-crumble parental relationship, as seen through the lens of memories.

Calum is a young, divorced father. From what we can gather, he and Sophie don’t see each other very often. He clearly has troubles of his own, never revealed, yet he truly loves his daughter and is willing to do whatever it takes to make her happy. Corio perfectly presents Sophie’s effervescent energy, which greatly contrasts with the sombre guilt that looms over Calum, who Mescal plays with wonderful conviction by showing us mere glimpses of the issues he faces.

The film cuts from the past to fragmented shots of present-day Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) and Calum to portray their current disjointed relationship. They're surrounded by an overwhelming number of people amongst flashing lights, an unclear setting until the ending reveals the meaning of this in a welcomingly abstract way that shatters the viewer.

We witness a sense of growth, both within the individual characters as well as their relationship as a whole, following one night on which Calum leaves Sophie to her own devices whilst he goes out to drink, beginning to spiral as Sophie independently explores the resort. The holiday comes to a close with a father-daughter dance scene, perhaps the last moment of true connection they’ll ever have, as the lyrics “This is our last dance” from Queen’s 'Under Pressure' echo above it, and we are thrown back into the vortex of the fractured present day. We know the relationship we have just watched blossom will disappear in front of our eyes, leaving us feeling empty.

In Aftersun Charlotte Wells has created a gorgeous depiction of the happiest memories we could have of our childhood – before we are ruined by our own adulthood.

by Victoria Ruck (she/they)
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