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'Aftersun' Review: Sweetly melancholic, this Charlotte Wells' debut is a gem and an experience you won't ever forget

The movie had its UK premiere at the London Film Festival and it's truly one of the best movies of the last 5 or so years
UPDATED NOV 20, 2022
Frankie Corio (Sophie) and Paul Mescal (Calum) in a still from 'Aftersun' (A24)
Frankie Corio (Sophie) and Paul Mescal (Calum) in a still from 'Aftersun' (A24)

The worst thing in life is realizing how we didn’t live some of the most significant moments of our lives like we should have. That’s what Charlotte Wells’ directorial debut, titled ‘Aftersun’, primarily focuses on and explores the relationship of a father and a daughter who are having the best vacation of their lives. There’s something unique and thrilling about debutant filmmakers tackling projects about human relationships that are really sensitive. So, the movie revolves around Sophie, and her father Calum (Paul Mescal), a divorcee who is taking his daughter on vacation while coping with loneliness and deteriorating mental health.

They both share a good relationship with each other and we get to know that as the movie progresses. The film, which had its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, opens with a Handycam footage of Calum looking really happy and enjoying the moment until he gets puzzled by a question asked by his daughter. The clip gets paused and we follow all the moments that they spend during their vacation as we go into flashback. Sophie is an 11-year-old girl who is on a vacation with her dad. In the initial moments of the trip, we see that both of them are having fun and are filled with happy moments. However, as the vacation progresses we get to know the insecurities of a parent and how is he trying to cope with a life full of disappointments. For him, Sophie is the only reason he’s alive today and why he can enjoy his life for a brief amount of time. Now, I know you must be thinking that this is another arthouse film filled with trauma, but ‘Aftersun’ is something bigger than just being an artsy movie.


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A still from 'Aftersun' (A24)
A still from 'Aftersun' (A24)

The story is really immersive and you’ll be thinking that some of these moments have happened to you or someone you know. The film is an intimate portrait of a father-and-daughter relationship that tells us that memories are tangible. To be honest, ‘Aftersun’ is one of those movies that’s really hard to write about and it’s because of all the emotions you go through while watching a story that’s really subtle in handling themes like fatherhood, childhood, loneliness, responsibility, grief, and vulnerability. Now, this movie might not be everybody’s cup of tea and I get that because they might not be able to understand what the characters are going through, feeling like they are just watching a movie about a father and daughter going on a vacation. But if you have been in such situations where you have struggled to understand what lies ahead of you and why everything seems so bleak, you’ll realize that ‘Aftersun’ is the most extraordinary take on depression in the history of cinema.

As far as performances are concerned, Paul Mescal has given a phenomenal performance that would be remembered for ages. It is a career-defining performance from a supremely talented actor who takes everyone on a journey that’s profound, and melancholic. A particular shot where he’s crying when he’s alone in their hotel room after having an argument with his daughter will undoubtedly break your heart. It shows how challenging it is to be a parent who is going through some of the most difficult times of their life. It’s not melodramatic and perfectly captures the emotions of an ailing father.
On the other hand, Frankie Corio is triumphant in her acting debut and the role of Sophie feels like it was tailor-made for her. Sophie’s story navigates through different stages of life where she goes through a lot of emotions. The coming-of-age plotline takes the movie to a whole new level and Corio is stupendous in every frame that she’s a part of.

A still from 'Aftersun' (A24)
A still from 'Aftersun' (A24)

Apart from spectacular performances, there’s something else that we shouldn’t forget and it’s about the stupendous direction from Charlotte Wells. This is her debut feature film and she has shown that she’s a world-class talent who is ready to conquer the world with stories that strike a chord with viewers. The magnificent dance scene between the central characters will take you back to the days when you were just enjoying the moment with someone you love the most. ‘Aftersun’ is soul-stirring in many ways and it’s all because of its amazing central themes. The final shot of the movie is one of the best shots in the last five or ten years and ties the three most important phases of life: the past, the present, and the space where the daughter and father are together.

Memorable and moving, ‘Aftersun’ is a triumphant take on heartbreak. It is subtle, melancholic, and an experience that you won’t ever forget. A masterpiece for the modern age.

***** for the epic storytelling.