Aftersun movie review: One of the best films of 2022; Charlotte Wells … – The Indian Express

Steven Spielberg mustered the courage to confront his childhood trauma only five decades into his career (and after the perpetrators of it had both passed). But watching director Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun — one of the most assured feature debuts ever, really; out now on Mubi — you get the sense that you’re witnessing a far more seasoned filmmaker at work.
A poetic and profound mood piece in which Wells draws from her own childhood with the masochistic energy of someone holding their hand over a flame, Aftersun focuses on a brief period that the filmmaker, in hindsight, has discovered was pivotal to her complicated relationship with her father. She was 11 at the time. At that age, most children tend to be oblivious of the harshness surrounding them, the harshness that they will be enveloped by in a matter of months. But this is also the age when children begin to acknowledge, if not fully comprehend, the fact that their parents are not merely caregivers, but human beings with their own independent lives.
It is during a summer vacation to Turkey that Sophie — that’s Wells’ stand-in, played by the phenomenal Frankie Coiro — first begins to notice that her father, Calum, isn’t the free-spirited man she thought he was. Under his calm exterior rages waves upon wave of despair and discontent. Played by Paul Mescal, Calum is a man who has put on a façade for the world, and most importantly, his daughter.
Here is a man whose every waking moment is a struggle. At one point, he tells a complete stranger in a rather offhand manner how shocked he is that he made it to 30, and how unsure he is if he will survive till 40. Mescal plays him as a dead man walking, like a soldier being put under third degree by life itself, refusing to crack, except when he is alone. In the film’s saddest scene, he sobs by himself, sitting at the edge of his bed; and in the movie’s most euphoric moment, he dances to the song “Under Pressure,” alone in a crowd.
He isn’t cruel to Sophie, but there is a palpable distance between them. What initially seems like an inexperienced (and noticeably young) father’s inability to communicate with their child reveals itself to be something deeper as the film goes on. In one scene, for instance, he essentially abandons her as he goes on an all-night bender. Sophie discovers him naked in bed the next morning, after having slept in the lobby of their hotel alone.
Wells is now about as old as Calum in the film, and Aftersun serves as both an abstract remembrance and a factual record. Segments of the movie are presented as home videos shot on camcorders — irrefutable proof that in the early 90s, a young Scottish man and his daughter vacationed together. But neither the camcorder footage nor the Polaroid that they pose for towards the end can capture the unaddressed turmoil simmering under the surface.
Aftersun is a loss-of-innocence tale, a memory within a memory. Like Janusz Kaminski did in Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, cinematographer Gregory Oke flips between film formats to evoke a sense of the past. But while it made sense for Spielberg to perceive his youth via grainy 16 mm footage, Wells, a millennial, filters it through splotchy standard definition video shot on a Sony HandyCam. Future generations will likely experience their entire lives in stunning 4K clarity. What a thought.
And such is the power of the visual medium in influencing our understanding of the eras gone by; when I was a child, for instance, I was convinced that the past was in black and white. The camcorder footage that Sophie captures on the vacation, it is strongly implied, is the only tangible artefact of the time she spent with her father that she has left. The vacation might conceivably have been the last time that they were together at all.
Like Spielberg — or Sammy Fabelman — in The Fabelmans, Sophie finds herself returning to the footage that she shot, as she sifts for clues, trying to understand what her father was going through. It is almost as if she sensed the magnitude of the situation, like a random passer-by whipping out their phone to film an act of police brutality, or a road accident, or a public altercation. For both Sammy and Sophie, the camera is not merely a tool to preserve ephemeral moments, but also a sort of armour to separate themselves from the real violence — self-inflicted or otherwise — that they have been forced to witness.
There is an emotional maturity to Wells’ storytelling that one might associate with the films of older, more established directors, many of whom — Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Paolo Sorrentino, Kenneth Branagh, and James Grey included — have decided in recent years to unpack their pasts. But Aftersun is a major achievement in its own right1, deserving of its place among this unexpected new wave of self-reflective cinema.
Aftersun
Director – Charlotte Wells
Cast – Frankie Corio, Paul Mescal
Rating – 5/5
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Rohan NaaharRohan Naahar is an assistant editor at Indian Express online. He cover… read more

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