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.
Paul Mescal & Frankie Corio
[no spoilers ahead]
When growing up, me and my family used to take a camera with us every time we went on holiday.
Of course, YouTube wasn’t a platform in which others posted family videos on because of the lack of popularity at the time, so we never brought the camera for any real reason. I suppose a camera following me was a step in the right direction with what I inevitably wanted to do in the future.
My dad was the cameraman, he used to pretend to be a different person, he was an American reporter who followed me around and interviewing me about my days in Florida. It was almost always me on the camera and him behind it, but every now and then I would pick up the camera and I’d film my family. My mum. My Nana. My grandad. My brother. And my dad. While I don’t believe there was anything to read between the lines of how my dad was feeling, this sense of keeping memories alive through moving pictures is what struck me with Aftersun.
Sophie, 20 years later, looks back over footage of her father trying to figure out what she missed as a child with her dad. Attempting to read between the lines of the footage she once recorded of her father, played by Paul Mescal. This film makes it clear from the beginning, through subtle expressions made by Paul, that Calum (dad) is trying to be someone for his daughter. He is a young dad who has a loss of youth hood as he’s had to step up for her. She thinks so highly of him, yet accepts who he is, and he thinks so low of himself but wants to be more of her. To set an example. To teach her lessons. To be seen as a father & not a failure.
This film is almost entirely from Sophie’s perspective, as it mixes with her memories and footage she took. The cinematography’s vibrancy and authentic sound design give this nostalgic and heartwarming tone to the film, which contrasts heavily with the subtext of the story and characters. A detail I found most interesting was Charlotte Wells’ use of the long take, many instances we are given seconds to minutes of time to inspect the screen and try to piece everything together, just as Sophie does. Often giving us long takes accompanied by a reflection, whether it is on a TV screen or a mirror.
As a young girl, Sophie appears to view her dad as quiet, a detail I picked up during the first act when we look through a window and see Calum dancing with a cigarette in his hand. The complete silence of inside, contrasting with his slow energetic nature to his dance offer us a better look into the psyche of both Calum and Sophie. Calum needs a sense of freedom, Sophie wants her dad to be happy. She constantly accepts him for who he is, even telling him that he can’t afford things so he doesn’t need to promise her anything, she’s okay with that.
“We could get you singing lessons if you wanted to learn.”
“Are you trying to tell me I can’t sing?”
“No, I’m just saying anyone can learn if they put in the work.”
“Stop doing that.”
“Offering to pay for something when I know you don’t have the money.”
Through the heart wrenching performance by Paul Mescal, the film takes a darker turn later in the film when we finally look into Calum’s perspective, who is loosely holding himself together overwhelmed by everything he has to be for Sophie. It is clear Calum is too loving for his own good at the age he is at, 32 years old and constantly gets mistaken for Sophie’s older brother. Sophie being surrounded by youth has cemented the feeling that she could fit in to others older than her, despite her not understanding too much of the world. During the holiday, she discovers things about herself that older Sophie still carries.
While difficult to talk too in-depth with, without spoilers. Aftersun is an incredibly beautiful debut feature film from Charlotte Wells & something I will be thinking about for a while. The film has a lot to say hidden behind visual language and it’s certainly a film that has a lot to interpret over multiple watches. The visual storytelling is what left me most impressed, constantly keeping me engaged and making the brain clogs turning, it ends with one of the most emotional final shots of the year.