Friday, February 03, 2023


Now contrast the hackneyed, obvious, hokey TO LESLIE with the delicate, slippery, intentional and unique AFTERSUN.  Both films are the works of debut feature directors, and both are based on childhood memories of the writers. But Charlotte Wells' film is one that contains a real directorial vision, precise and affecting visual style, and two lead performances that cut to the bone.  There is nothing predictable or easy or samey here.  When we leave the film we feel that we know two real human beings deeply and care immensely, even if we are still struggling to piece together what happens when the film ends.

The main narrative is concerned with a package holiday that father and daughter Callum and Sophie take to Turkey in the early 1990s. Callum is a young father, evidently broken up from Sophie's mum. They have a warm and open relationship, speaking about her first kiss and gentle discovery of adolescence. They clearly love each other deeply.  But Sophie cannot know what we see - that Callum is struggling with depression and taking risky decisions.  The framing device of the film sees an adult Sophie in her flat watching old camcorder footage of the holiday. We don't know what happened to the father between the holiday and now, but there's a melancholy nostalgic feeling, and an implication that he is no longer in her life.  

What I love about this film is Wells' resistance to cheap plot or big set pieces.  We just get an accumulation of detail and feeling until the sense of love and loss is overwhelming.  I also love the way the film is shot and styled: the way so much of it is mediated though screens - camcorders, TVs, karaoke machines - placing a  distorting lens between reality and memory.  Wells is a writer-director who reminds me of Joanna Hogg in these respects.  Paul Mescal gives his best performance to date and Frankie Corio is incredibly impressive as the daughter.   

Overall, this has to be one of the most deeply affecting and profound films I have seen in a while. I am so delighted that it has received an Oscar nomination. It deserves all the recognition it is getting.

AFTERSUN is rated R and has a running time of 102 minutes. It played Cannes and London 2022 and was released in the UK and USA last year.

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