For some dumb reason, Australia gets all the best movies of the year 3 months later then we are supposed to. Around February/ March we get a dump of all the award-winning films, and it is a rush to see them before they are out of cinema. Therefore, I saw Aftersun probably four months after I should have. Nevertheless, I will continue to review this film that you have seen ages ago and don’t want to hear about anymore.
Aftersun is about Sophie, played by Frankie Corio, as she reflects on a holiday she had with her father Calum, played by Paul Mescal. At 11 years old, Sophie struggles with growing up while Calum struggles with the world outside of fatherhood.
Aftersun is undoubtedly one of the best screenplays of the year (the fact that it is not nominated for an Oscar is mind boggling). Charlotte Wells writes with so much restraint and simplicity it feels like this is her 10th film. This golden thread of memory and grief is something that has been ticking away in my head for the last 3 days. What’s so incredible is that Charlotte almost never explicitly says anything. The tiniest nods and clues create this harrowing tone that will allude to certain themes but let the audience decide for themselves.
While the writing is incredible, Charlotte Wells’ direction is equally skilled. Aftersun is one of those films that feels like you shouldn’t be watching it. It is so intimate and honest that I truly felt intrusive being in this space. Charlotte and Gregory Oke (DOP) work together to place the audience right next to our characters. The camera has any eye of its own. It wanders around the room, sometimes just watching Sophie and Calum as they sleep.
Paul Mescal’s performance is exceptional. He drip feeds the audience little lines and actions that eventually let them understand who this man is. Paul’s subtleties in portraying such a broken man never seem over the top or out of line with this character. He never has the big acting Oscar scene and yet undeniably delivers my favourite performance of the year.
I cannot talk about Paul without mentioning Frankie Corio. She was 11 years old at the time they shot this and delivers a beautiful performance and one of my favourites of the year. Like Paul, she never hams it up but instead focuses on embodying a girl who is lost in her youth but trying to hide it.
For me, I know a film is truly excellent when an ending stays with me. Once I finished Aftersun, I went home and watched the ending three times. Charlotte Wells skilfully shows the audience so much while telling them so little. Through the brilliant use of a song and incredible direction, the movie all comes together without explicitly saying a word. It is a haunting and harrowing conclusion that will stay with you for a long time.
Should you see Aftersun?
Absolutely. It is one of my favourite films of the year and is well worth your time. While it has a slower pace, it is deliberate in letting you understand this relationship and these characters’ lives.