Nothing much happens in Aftersun, but every moment matters. Divorced dad Calum (played by Normal People’s Paul Mescal) takes his daughter Sophie (newcomer Francesca Corio, so effortlessly cool she never seems to be acting) on a low-key holiday. Set sometime in the ’90s, they hang out in a budget Turkish resort, being easy-going, goofy and enjoying just the right amount of cheesy holiday fun (one hotel staff performance of the ‘Macarena’ will send shivers down the spine of anyone who’s had to behold it).
Calum is caring, weird in the way that everyone’s dad is a bit weird, and a goofball who genuinely enjoys spending time with his kid. But there’s a clear sadness to him that Mescal allows to flicker through his face to remind us that no matter how hard Calum is trying, there’s a dark side to him that will soon rear its head. He promises Sophie things he cannot afford, and she calls him out on it. Then one night, unable to handle things, he disappears into the night, leaving Sophie stranded alone. Although he does come back, his guilt is overwhelming.
Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells, who wrote and directs Aftersun, weaves together memories, home video and dreams in a singular way. It turns out that an older Sophie is remembering these important – and, it is implied, last – moments with her dad as an adult. Wells makes the interplay between these recollections and her piecing together her father’s emotional reality incredibly vivid.
Aftersun flows like a fondly remembered memory that’s been replayed endlessly, as if trying to find an important detail that might explain what happened. The easy pace of Wells’s direction brings out the best in her central performers, and the chemistry between Mescal and Corio plays out effortlessly. The light moments between them are warm and the darker ones linger heavily.
The chemistry between Paul Mescal and his younger co-star plays out effortlessly
Throughout the film, we are seeing Calum through Sophie’s memory of him, both loving and resentful, compassionate and angry. Later, child and adult Sophie watch her dad walk away down an airport corridor and disappear into a strobe-filled nightclub. It’s a melancholy and perhaps imaginary goodbye that lingers long after the credits roll.
Aftersun premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.