Friday 14 October 2022

AFTERSUN - London Film Festival 2022

Starring Paul Mescal and newcomer Frankie Corio as a father and daughter on holiday in Turkey, Aftersun is director Charlotte Wells's nostalgic ode to the special bond that exists between parent and child, and how memories of our past stay with us. Taking place sometime in the late '90s (the soundtrack - Bran Van 3000's Drinking in L.A., Los Del Rio's Macarena - and fashions quickly establishing that to anyone who remembers the era) over the course of a summer holiday at a resort in Turkey, Aftersun arrives at this year's LFF with huge festival hype after its debut at Cannes earlier this year.

Unlike his Normal People co-star Daisy Edgar-Jones who was quickly snapped up to star in everything from cannibal comedy horror Fresh to winsome literary adaptation Where the Crawdads Sing, aside from his appearance in the ensemble of last year's The Lost Daughter audiences have so far been kept waiting for the big screen bow of Mescal. Here, as 30 year old Calum, young father to 11 year old girl Sophie, he takes on a similarly brooding, almost tragically emotionally distant character. There's clearly some shared DNA between this and Connell in Normal People, but as much as that role showed us how nuanced and capable he was as a performer, Aftersun expands on that further, making Calum one of the most relatable and troubled father figures in recent memory.

The strength of the film undoubtedly lies in the bond between Calum and Sophie, so close in age that they're mistaken for sister and older brother by other holidaymakers. Amicably separated from Sophie's mother who has moved on to have a family with someone else, this holiday is Calum's opportunity to spend quality time with his daughter over the summer break before she returns to the normality of her life in Scotland, as well as find the serenity he desperately needs in his life. Despite the pent up issues he struggles to hide - presented through undisclosed injuries and disappearances that he can't explain to his daughter - Calum is immensely proud to have Sophie and wants to steer her in the right way in life, having honest discussions with her about drugs and the experiences she may have ahead of her as she grows up, but also giving plenty of room for her to be a kid (playing with the older teens, having a holiday romance with a boy from the arcades - solely based around their shared appreciation for a motorbike racing game), alongside the bonding sightseeing experiences they have together. Even then, when departing a tour bus, rather than following the crowd of tourists they break away from the pack for a momentary dance/tai chi break to cleanse their minds.

But it's with Sophie, the central character of the film played by Frankie Corio, that the film shows its true heart. With flashes of a modern day Sophie (the film is framed by the replaying of an old camcorded holiday video) suggesting how the memories of this formative experience has shaped her life, the younger iteration is a delight to be around. Curious and confident, she's full of childlike wonder at the world ahead of her, glimpsed through the lives of the teens at the resort and the father she adores. She's grown-up in the way 11 year old girls are in comparison to boys, but not opposed to doing kid stuff like getting a braid in her hair (a holiday institution, of course) or performing karaoke in front of the rest of the resort. Corio is excellent as the charming, adorably precocious Sophie, watching and reaching out to her father as the age difference between them seems to shrink as the story progresses and she understands more about life. And Mescal emerges as one of the most exciting actors of his generation, using his now trademark restraint to speak volumes.

Filled with so many flashes of sun-drenched joy and bittersweet moments, anchored by a beautifully melodic score from cellist/composer Oliver Coates, this is a fantastic debut for writer/director Charlotte Wells, that clearly draws from her own memories of the era. Aftersun is a deeply moving experience that will have you nostalgic for an easier, simpler time, asking you to pause and think back on your own experiences and how they've shaped your life.

This is something special.



Aftersun was part of this year's London Film Festival. It will be released in cinemas by Mubi on November 18th.

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