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MOVIES (LFF 2022): Aftersun - Review

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Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun is one of the most fearless and quietly devastating movies of the year; a resounding feature debut from someone who has only directed short films before – to arrive with the sort of confidence not seen since Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher is a bold move, but Wells pulls it off superbly – reflecting on the bond of a father separated from his partner taking his daughter on holiday twenty years earlier. It’s an intriguing memory presented through MiniDV footage as Sophie, our protagonist, tries to piece together what was real and what was imagined in attempt to better understand Paul Mescal’s Calum.

This isn’t an easy watch, there’s no mistaking that, and it’ll put you through the wire multiple times as Wells pours her heart and soul into the screen. Mescal is superb; better than in Normal People, as a young father who’s even mistaken for the sister of Francesca Corio’s Sophie by a bunch of teenagers that she befriends at a holiday resort. The holiday resort itself where they spend much of the film is the classic Brit-abroad resort, complete with an aged Elvis cover artist and false-cheery staff desperate to install a sense of pride in their guests.

It’s a classic environment that should be a dream – but Aftersun instead peels back the romantic notions of the fairytale holiday and looks at the ugly side that people don’t always remember. Fragmented memory is a cursed thing, and the film uses footage to capture the dream that Sophie caught on camera. It’s a slow burner that the more you watch the more you realise what’s happening; long before its usage of Under Pressure, which is arguably the best usage of a Queen and or Bowie song in a film – which takes some beating – the film reaches a fever pitch in those moments; masterfully putting together a playlist that any fans of a certain age will recognise: Tubthumping, Losing My Religion, The Lightning Seeds & Aqua all feature on the soundtrack as well as more besides. It’s as much as a character as the film itself; maybe the best film soundtrack since their heyday.

The visual choices in this film is just so off-the-charts good and makes the most out of the relationship between Sophie and Calum which is one of the most real and immaculate relationships created on screen between father and daughter; deeply haunting in its portrayal. Aftersun plays with memory in a way like no other and what’s said and left unsaid are two very different things – it’s not until the end when the true gut punch hits in; and by then you’ll long since be a broken wreck.

It doesn’t matter what the clues older Sophie is searching for on the camera footage of the holiday – that’s very much not the point; after all, she was a child. How could she have known what her father was doing her best to hide from her? It’s a film that ignores going too deep into the details and showcases Calum’s struggle to hide his own from his daughter – and the cheerfulness that she brings to the holiday clashes with Calum’s personality. It’s a real treasure. Everything is meticulous in its choices and the film brings out the best in everyone involved, knowing how to use the Turkish scenery to perfection – teenage sexuality is also placed under the microscope, it’s a coming of age movie as much as it is a movie about parental bonds – and at a tight 100 minutes, Aftersun is just next-level good – and for this to be a first feature, too? Incredible! One of my favourites of the calendar year, and I’ll go on about it to no end. Near flawless.

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