New York Film Festival: Aftersun (2022) Review
Originally capturing wide acclaim with the short films she presented at festivals such as Sundance, South by Southwest and more, Scottish writer-director Charlotte Wells has solidified herself as one of the most exciting voices in cinema today with her riveting feature-length debut, Aftersun. I originally didn’t plan on watching this one, but after seeing such rave reviews, as well as a trailer that looked as beautiful as it did moving, this film instantly became one of the ones I was most looking forward to seeing. It’s a beautiful exploration of memory, time, family and more. As a woman reminisces about a summer holiday to Turkey with her father, what viewers are given is a kind of meditative coming-of-age narrative that’s sure to leave an impression.
Calum and his daughter, Sophie, are way past the transitionary period that comes when parents divorce; and though it soon becomes obvious he’s unable to see her often, we still get a great sense of their closeness and love for one another. This chemistry is brought to life by magnificent performances from Paul Mescal—who recently won a BAFTA TV Award for his leading role in Normal People—and Francesca Corio—who has one of the best debuts a child actor can hope for. Through their performances, we get a great sense of these characters and all the things they’re working through.
Seeming to be at a somewhat listless point in his life, Calum tries to find balance with books on meditation and daily Tai Chi exercises while remaining an active presence in his daughter’s life. Though she's clearly well-attuned to her father’s subtle mood shifts, Sophie has her own growing pains to worry about: discovering boys and the complexities that come with growing up. These two characters’ conflicts are captured beautifully by the cinematography of Gregory Oke. Naturalistic lighting and great shot composition create an intimate atmosphere that’s further heightened by intercutting what looks like old family videos, which also speaks to the way the film bounces back and forth between past and present.
Even the movie’s very premise appears to be engaged with time. There’s always a kind of melancholy that comes with any vacation; maybe that’s because we all know vacations aren’t forever, and when they end we have to go back to living through the day-to-day. This is the harsh reality Sophie and Calum are inevitably faced with: the clock marches forward, regardless of all the distractions we consume to try and ignore it. But while this film will definitely pull at the heartstrings, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily nihilistic or negative. By focusing on moments of genuine vulnerability between father and daughter, audiences are led to understand that they don’t have to go through life alone, no matter how messy things might become. It’s a wondrous, heart-filled look at what it means to be alive and connect with people. You have to see this movie, catch it in theaters October 21st!
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