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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Aftersun // Film Review



We all have two sets of memories. The first is in our camera rolls; it’s the snapshots, mostly staged, of the people we’ve loved and places we’ve been over the last however many years. The other set is in our minds, and it works in much the opposite way. We don’t actually remember much from our memories, not words nor scents, and certainly not anything in the time before or after. We only really take away the feelings they leave in our hearts, for better or worse.


The brilliance of Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells) is in combining these two sensations, blending seamlessly the factual recordings of a family holiday with its emotional remnants to capture the exact experience of sitting on your couch on a cold Winter night watching home movies.



The film tells the story of Calum (Paul Mescal) and his daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio). Calum is nearly 30, and Sophie just 11, but their rapport is so natural and boiling with warmth that people often mistake them for siblings. Calum is divorced from Sophie’s mother, and the film is set over the week of the one holiday the two ever spent together, at a gorgeous Turkey summer resort. We gradually realise, in an spoiler-conscious way, that this is in fact the exercise of an adult Sophie recalling some of her last great memories with her father, twenty years later.

She achieves this through a fusion of camcorder footage chronicling brief snippets of the holiday, and filling in the rest with images born of her own imagination. Rooted in fact, but recreated as a child might have first perceived it. Vintage moments of hotel arcades, macarena dances and the endless hours spent lying idle and bored on a sunbed. Wells has described the film as an “emotional biography”, and the specificty of each episode within it rings utterly true. None of these memories are glorious, or thrilling, yet we are utterly convinced by their plainness.



The result is a assembly of scenes which leave everything in our hands; vague conversations and expressions of joy or sorrow that paint a full picture of a family clinging to love through strain. Key to this are the immaculate performances of Mescal and Corio; so lived in that one could be forgiven for assuming real paternity.


Indeed, early scenes of Calum rubbing suncream on Sophie’s back or tucking her into bed are almost off-puttingly intimate, but this is only an earnest effort to portray familial love with a physicality that is rarely captured at the movies. The connection between Calum and Sophie eschews the typical conventions of belly laughs and big hugs to instead establish a body language so quiet and trusting that it could be documentary.



That sense of touch is really the crowning achievement of Aftersun. One cannot help but become thoroughly convinced that Sophie has recreated this chapter of her life to the point where she can not only share laughs with her father, but really spend this time with him again. This immersion is broken only by the occasional strobe flash to a darker present, cutting through the frame like a jump scare in a cheap horror, but with so much more weight.

The result is a fascinating achievement; the memories are of course false, as are the performances within them, but Wells so seamlessly constructs one sustained image through her shifts between found footage and more ordinary filmmaking that it hardly matters. Aftersun is essentially a resurrection film for a man who never existed, but who as a result can be an “emotional biography” for any of us who have lost touch with loved ones, living now only in our camera rolls and dustiest memories.

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