Occasionally, a small independent film like Aftersun comes along and steadily builds in acclaim and prestige.
The distributor A24 has built their brand and reputation around being a studio that gives a platform for larger audiences to new voices and smaller stories. Aftersun is the latest of these offerings. From debut writer-director Charlotte Wells, the film has swept critics’ awards and even landed an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for Paul Mescal.
Beginning twenty years after their last holiday at a fading vacation resort, Sophie (Frankie Corio/Celia Rowlson-Hall) reflects on the rare bit of time she spent with her loving and idealistic father, Calum (Paul Mescal). At 11 years old and with the world of adolescence creeping into her view, Calum struggles under the weight of life outside fatherhood. Sophie’s recollections become a powerful and heartrending portrait of their relationship as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she did not really know.
When watching the film, it can be hard to discern where the story is going. Aftersun is subtle and only particularly forthcoming in the last 5 minutes when the narrative begins to click. The story’s emotion sneaks up on you, and it will likely linger in the heart and mind for longer than expected. We like to remember the good parts. We want to revise the bad and downplay them to avoid retraumatising ourselves. This personal film wrestles deeply with the idea of revisionist reflections of forgiveness and recovery, reconciliation, and closure.
As we enter Sophie’s recollections of a holiday she took with her father, we experience her attempts to reconcile her memories of her late parent. It is a raw and harrowing, yet therapeutic endeavour. Young Frankie Corio is a star in the making and her performance ranks as one of the best of the year. Whilst Paul Mescal delivers a richly layered and deeply masqued performance that presents outward care plagued by inward turmoil. Seeing their father-daughter dynamic experience its ups and downs is heartbreaking. There is great joy in moments of closeness and deep sadness in hurt and division.
Wells’ creative visual choices are immaculate, and the film is absorbing in its crafts. Her awe-inspiring debut makes her a talent worth keeping tabs on for the future. The editing, cinematography, and sound combine to create a hazy dreamscape that reflects how we think about our favourite holidays whilst sanitising the less-than-favourable moments. A particular sequence that utilises a classic home video aesthetic stands out to those with an eye for visual storytelling.
Aftersun is a contemplative and rich film worth rewatching to peel back the carefully crafted layers. All aspects of the tale become patient and penitent, emotionally heavy and visually bright, with its reflective rumination that balances reality and fantasy. An extraordinary film worth seeking out.
Where do we find comfort?
Charlotte Wells’ story is a hazy recollection of memories being reminisced upon by a mourning daughter. It raises many questions about fatherhood, mental health, and grief. Her screenplay is a cathartic experience for Sophie as she fondly remembers this one last holiday. Yet, it also seems difficult for her to find any comfort.
In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that those who mourn will be comforted. Whilst the Psalms are full of laments given to readers as a model of how to grieve, mourn and express anger. If you are struggling with finding comfort, the Bible teaches that God is the God of all comfort, and you can come to Him to find rest. Have you met this comforter?
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
– Matthew 5:4
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Feature image: Movie stills
Michael Walsh is a Missions Engagement Minister in Sydney, and an avid film fan. His love of film is surpassed only by his love of God, and his desire to make the Gospel known.