Spellbinding performances from both Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio transform A24’s “Aftersun” into a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping experience that stays in the audience’s mind long after the credits roll.
The film follows an 11-year-old Sophie (Corio) spending her last holiday vacation with her dad, Calum (Mescal), in a cheap resort motel in Turkey. Throughout their stay, Sophie shares numerous moments of love and warmth, which are captured on a low-definition camcorder, with her idealistic father. Sophie also embarks on a coming-of-age journey as she encounters many new, fascinating individuals. As she looks back on those memories, an adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) must accept there is more to the man she did not always know — things she could not notice when she was a child.
The film is undoubtedly mesmerizing right from the beginning up to the very end. The rapport between the two leads generates such marvelous chemistry; the dialogues feel so natural and effortless as if the audience were watching a home movie. From every word to every pause on the screen, Mescal and Corio’s attentive portrayals of father and daughter are the beating heart of the film. Without them, “Aftersun” would have fallen short.
Mescal and Corio are the true winners of this year’s acting awards, giving powerhouse performances that leave the audience with such alluring melancholy. This is Mescal’s best role yet as well as an exceptional breakout performance for Corio.
Charlotte Wells, the director, hones in on their irresistible chemistry to create something so spectacular within the realms of cinema. Not to mention, this is Wells’ first feature, delivering such artistic and profound storytelling elements. Companied with gorgeous, visceral camera shots, the film stands firm as one of the masterpieces of the year. Truly, “Aftersun” is a remarkable directorial debut for Wells.
Besides the extraordinary directions, the writing is packed with heart and tenderness; every scene carries a purpose that spotlights the relationship between the two main protagonists. The pace is steadily gradual with some scenes that overstay their duration, but the effect of the scenes being long elevates the feel of intimacy, adding another layer of personal touch to the film as a whole.
Another appreciative aspect of Wells’ directing is the usage of background music. Within scenes that call for music, Wells treats the lyrics as a storytelling method, smartly underlining what the takeaway of the scene is. The last song featured in the film creates a powerful, devastating effect, leaving the viewers with an everlasting impression — one that makes them think about their respective parents.
At its center, “Aftersun” is a story about a father and daughter’s vacation but through the perspective of a child. As the film progresses, sorrowful moments of the father’s reality are revealed as Sophie recollects the hidden aspects of those memories. There are several occasions where Calum’s behaviors are heartbreaking to watch, times where the audience could not hold back a tear. The last 20 minutes of the film deliver one of the best emotional experiences that will break most viewers’ hearts.
The themes of time and memory are key players throughout the film, and Wells assures every frame contributes to its larger identity. From characters’ developments to emotional breakdowns, Wells delicately weaves in many visual symbols to convey her point about how memories act as pathways to understanding the past and the things that are left unsaid.
Needless to say, Wells’ inspiration for the film draws from her own experience with her father on a family vacation. Her translation from an experience to a poignant cinema achievement carries her to the likes of prodigious filmmakers of modern cinema. The way the film is written, cut and edited, Wells puts every ounce of heart, devotion and time to perfect this grand, emotional journey.
“Aftersun” is an outstanding debut showcase for Wells as a visionary director. Additionally, Mescal and Corio’s performances are the key factors in producing a perpetual impact on the audience as they experience the wonderful melancholy of life and its memories. Among a long list of the film’s achievements, “Aftersun” proudly proclaims itself as an insightful examination of memories that will leave the audience emotionally cathartic.