A father and his daughter spend a holiday together in Turkey. The trip is short-lived, but through the eyes of both characters, its effects last a lifetime. Sophie (Frankie Corio) is a pensive and witty child on the way to becoming a teenager. Calum (Paul Mescal) is a young man trying his best to play the role of a father.
Aftersun, Charlotte Wells’ directorial debut, shows the faint tragedy of all parent-and-child relationships: Despite both parties’ best intentions, they will never get to fully understand one another.
This theme becomes more evident with time, as it becomes impossible to ignore that parents carry an identity outside of parenthood and children are forced into independence.
Distanced by age, individual experiences, and many unsaid things, Sophie and Calum portray the complex reality of family relationships.
The movie, released on Oct. 21, is a glimpse at Sophie’s recollection of the time she spent together with her father as an 11-year-old. Given that the story is a retrospective product of Sophie as an adult, the movie is nostalgic at its core. But what it is nostalgic about remains unanswered by the end of the movie.
Aftersun leaves many things open to interpretation not in an artistic way, but in a failed appearance of senseless ambiguity. Memories can often be abstract, inconclusive, and full of gaps. In this way, Wells is able to portray the process of remembering accurately.
Yet Wells fails to provide anything concrete to her audience. The movie attempts to be cryptic through excessive subtlety and silence.
Even though the two characters are always engaged in vacation activities like sunbathing, swimming, playing pool, or dining with live music, viewers feel the constant sensation that nothing is happening.
The film presents itself as an anti-plot that guards every prolonged scene. The viewer is forced to anticipate a sort of catharsis, a sudden revelation, or a dramatic turn of events. This moment, however, never comes.
Akin to Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film Somewhere, Aftersun is a delicate movie that relies on little details to express bigger emotions. Yet, Aftersun reveals too little of its characters, specifically of Calum, making it hard for viewers to connect to him.
Calum attempts to find inner solitude and make peace with himself, rigidly throwing himself into tai chi and meditation. There is something wrong with Calum—he suffers in private, as proven through an unsettling scene in which he sobs while Sophie is away.
Apart from its intangibility, the cinematography of Aftersun is creative and unique.
The color blue makes a continual appearance through the beautiful Turkish ocean, sky, and pools, conveying a peaceful feeling that is appropriate to Calum and Sophie’s vacation. Some scenes are recorded as if they are through young Sophie’s camera, which she uses to document details of her trip as she speaks about her day.
Corio does an outstanding job playing a girl on the verge of adolescence. The camera often focuses on Sophie’s hands as she awkwardly plays with her arms or as she stares at a group of older kids, studying how they behave and wondering if she would fit in.
Corio’s natural acting delivers Aftersun’s most emotionally revealing moment as she communicates a universal childhood experience: disappointment.
It begins as a trifling scene—Sophie has signed herself and her father up for karaoke, but Calum is seemingly bothered by her enthusiasm. As Sophie is called onto stage, she tries to convince her father to join her. She walks to the stage confident that her father will eventually follow her, but he resists.
Once she’s on stage in front of an audience of tourists, she nervously and playfully looks at him, smiling, still believing that Calum will not leave her there, singing by herself. Yet, Calum sits still.
Sophie’s smile quickly fades and turns into an expression of shame and betrayal. She has no option but to half-heartedly sing the R.E.M. song “Losing My Religion” by herself.
This scene best exemplifies the film’s objective. It creates a tense atmosphere. The camera focuses on the empty stage and Sophie’s awkward stance on it. Then it zooms into her face—the face of unforgettable disappointment of a girl let down by her father.
If there is anything certain in this movie, it is Sophie’s inconclusive portrait of her father. She has pieces of who Calum was through shared experiences and conversations. But as she watches her documented trip on the TV as an adult, it is clear that Sophie is missing many pieces.
She searches for these pieces of her father, but these pieces will never be found.