‘Aftersun’ tells bittersweet childhood tales

Sage Dunlap, Associate Life&Arts Editor

“Aftersun,” the debut feature film from director Charlotte Wells, showcases a bittersweet memory influenced by the director’s childhood, confined in the grounds of a kitschy, colorful resort in the 1990s.

The film showcases a largely autobiographical story inspired by the last time the director saw her estranged father. The film follows Sophie (Frankie Corio) as she  looks back at a vacation she once shared with her single father Calum (Paul Mescal). As Sophie navigates her own identity and burgeoning adulthood, she also finds herself struggling to understand her relationship with her unreliable, yet loving father, culminating in one of the year’s most heart-wrenching movies.

Corio and Mescal play off one another beautifully on screen to breathe life into two parallel coming-of-age stories. While 11-year-old Sophie navigates preteen pressures, like her first kiss and sexuality, Calum, celebrating his 32nd birthday, finds himself coming to terms with feeling aimless as an adult, struggling with both depression and financial instability .  Playful Sophie and melancholic Calum work in tandem to draw vulnerable reactions from one another, with their chemistry showcased in the film’s natural dialogue. While both actors, particularly Mescal, deliver emotionally intense scenes, playful moments shared between the two bring a warmth to the script.  

Shot on 35mm film, the film’s cinematography adds to the nostalgic appeal of the project. Striking sun flare and a vibrant color scheme serve to not only provide viewers a visual treat, but also showcase how this vacation evokes a warm, rare memory of a man who otherwise caused Sophie emotional grief. Amid grand oceanic landscapes and beautiful Turkish hillsides, more mundane settings, like hotel pools and a run-down arcade, ground the film and provide places for the two characters to share intimate interactions. 

The most striking aspect of this film comes from its ability to seamlessly transition from past to present. Viewers catch small glimpses into present-day Sophie, who, as a parent, seeks to piece together her fragmented relationship with her father through photographs, camcorder footage and foggy memories. A more surreal, stylized scene showcases how a spontaneous dance party to the fragmented tune of David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” lives in the aged Sophie’s mind as  a dark dance floor shrouded in dramatic strobe lighting — an imagined place shown intermittently throughout the movie. 

Well’s debut feature film delivers an extremely vulnerable project. “Aftersun” explores how one woman pieces together her fragmented relationship with her estranged father by clinging on to a blissful, bittersweet memory. Mescal and Corio contribute stunning side-by-side performances that promise to leave audiences reflecting on the moments they choose to stow away in their memory. 

4 ½ beach umbrellas out of 5