Aftersun – Review

Cast: Frankie Colio, Paul Mescal, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Sally Messham
Directed and Written by Charlotte Wells
Length: 102mins

The 1990’s saw a British invasion of a new kind, with exotic locations such as Malaga and Turkey becoming overrun by package holidays and organised entertainment – foreign enough to be exciting, but without the need to learn any new language. The latter of these two getaways is where ‘Aftersun’ plays out, a story of a youthful father and his wisened daughter, as the two attempt to enjoy a getaway together, which on the surface appears to strengthen their bond and intimacy, but brings with it its fair share of anxieties and uncertainties too.

The recently-recognisable name of Paul Mescal drew a great deal of attention to this film upon its release, and his performance is nothing short of enchanting. However, this isn’t the only great piece of acting which ‘Aftersun’ provides, as 12-year-old Frankie Colio makes her debut as an incredibly talented youngster, with her portrayal of the daughter, Sophie, contributing towards one of the greatest father-daughter relationships shown in any film in recent memory. There’s a clear naturalistic aesthetic which defines much of the story of ‘Aftersun’, and a great deal of this comes as a result of the warmth and humility Colio and Mescal’s characters share with one another. In one scene sharing the sweetness of a summer holiday abroad, and the next, grumpily seeing out the tiredness of exhausted afternoons away from the sun. I don’t feel that I can overstate enough the strength of the performances between this duo, as they provide a huge range of emotions experienced throughout the length of ‘Aftersun’.

First-time director Charlotte Wells – how is this someone’s first film! – utilises a great number of filmic techniques to portray the sticky, commercialised and fond memories of a summer spent abroad in the 90’s. The great soundtrack which reinforces the emotion of many scenes is perfectly selected, with an especially well-placed use of one of Blur’s greatest tracks, ‘Tender’. However, Wells isn’t content to simply include a precisely-timed needle drop, but also experiments with the speed of the track, accentuating Damon Albarn’s intimate vocals even further by slowing the song down as an evening of uncertainty reaches its conclusion. This scene in particular stands as a highlight within a film littered with great moments, and showcases the talents of a filmmaker who may very well become a highly regarded name amongst directors of her generation.

There’s a great deal of ambiguity to ‘Aftersun’s’ narrative – a statement that would seem to contrast the naturalistic dialogue and home-video shooting style. Although never explicitly stated, and without wanting to give too much away, the film is one which sparks a flood of debate over the true story which has been told as you leave the cinema. Small hints and references to anxieties around the characters imply that what is shown is not truly what is being told, and that the enormous emotional imprint this film leaves on your thoughts comes more from what isn’t shown, than what is.

Perhaps my favourite film of 2022, I can’t emphasise enough just how much I fell in love with this story. The beautiful locations, the strange community that comes as a result of package holidays, the incredible performances between Paul Mescal and Frankie Colio. It truly is a must-see film, and a landmark debut film from Charlotte Wells.

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