Directed by Charlotte Wells
NOTE: CONTAINS SPOILERS
When a film centres around memory there is usually a larger overarching purpose. The memories themselves are precious, they further the plot. Films like Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’ (2000), and Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’ (2007) both carry the idea of memory and the weight it has. For the central characters in both films the act of concealing or remembering certain events is pivotal to the plot (not that I’m going to spoil that here if you haven’t seen them). Aftersun, however, is different - the memories that unfold are not ones that have this gargantuan impact on the lives of father and daughter Calum (Paul Mescal), and Sophie (Frankie Corio), in regard to the external. What we witness is the gradual unfolding of their relationship as they process their relationship with one another and the crossroads it arrives at.
The film centres on the young father and daughter at a resort in Turkey, an area built for tourists to spend a week tanning in and occasionally leave to view landmarks. It’s a hideaway. It’s clear that Calum and Sophie try to view this in the same way as they gleefully get off the coach at the hotel, yet it quickly becomes clear that they will not be able to do this. Once Sophie falls asleep the camera lingers on Calum as he sneaks onto the balcony for a cigarette. A moment of peace that he cherishes but also feels as though it is dragging him into a world he cannot stay in - one we are given brief flashes of as a world akin to a dark nightclub. It is even the location for the saddest scene of the film as an adult Sophie tries to grasp onto a fumbling version of her father only for him to fall away into the void accompanied only by the saddest rendition of Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ to ever be put to film.
Throughout the film, Wells mixes the grainy footage of a 90s video camera and the memories attached to it, serving as a foil. Whilst Calum and Sophie are able to falsify happy memories for eyes of other people or the clunky footage on the camera there are moments where they cannot pretend anymore and must reveal the truth to one another. Their love for each other, amazingly portrayed by Mescal and Corio without whom the film would entirely fail, runs so deep that even in their moments of disillusionment there is no denying that they love each other.
As the film ends, we are granted with a depressing, long shot. Sophie beams as she boards a plane back up to Glasgow only for the camera to pan back around to Calum who drops the video camera only to reveal an entirely empty expression. He turns and walks down a sterile corridor and pushes open a door into the black room we have occasionally seen him in throughout the film-as though in the absence of the daughter he performed for he has finally given up. The screen cuts to black and you are left in a state of sadness bewilderment and joy - all from watching the lives of these characters unfold.
Films like ‘Aftersun’ are rare. Gentle, human stories unwrapping with enough tact to seem so relatable but never going so far as to seem desperate. It isn’t seeking to be emotional or relatable but simply desiring to understand these two people and their relationship. If at any point you have the ability to see it then please do - if nothing else you will at least be able to respect a film that unironically put ‘5,6,7,8’ by Steps and ‘Losing My Religion’ by R.E.M on the same soundtrack.