Aftersun: Pure, Melancholic and Heart-Wrenching



Aftersun (2022) is Charlotte Wells’ debut film which premiered at Cannes Critics’ Week this May. It was one of the most talked about films at this year’s Film Festival and received the French Touch Jury Prize at Cannes. It was one of the films I felt would be special to me. 


Wells tells the story of Calum (Paul Mescal), who spends a summer holiday at a resort in Turkey with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio). The film plays in the late 1990s and portrays a loving relationship between the two, illustrating the strong affection the father has for his daughter. The film also follows Calum’s struggle with depression and anxiety. Close to the end of the movie, the audience realises that the movie is based on a flashback: twenty years later, the now 31-year-old Sophie reminisces and reflects on her experience and the silent moments she could not understand at a young age. 


Wells channels her own childhood memories in her first feature. Her personal connection to the story is expressed on different levels. She creates a particular atmosphere and natural flow, which is calm yet simultaneously heartbreaking. The film is visually beautiful, with a soft colour palette that is contrasted against the silent and dark moments of life. It is this paradox that creates a certain captivating energy while one watches the film. The movie conveys that even the saddest emotions and memories can be beautiful. 



The filmography is perfect. The strong affection Calum and Sophie have for each other is captured through the focus on small details, the shift of perspectives and the choice of long takes. All these creative attempts make the film incredibly approachable. The strong and exquisitely subtle way Wells creates emotion is impressive. In particular, by introducing the camcorder that the father and daughter bring along on their trip, the general scenery takes on  a nostalgic tone by shifting between visual points of view. 

Although this film, in context, is strongly focused on the storyline of post-divorce childhood and therefore might be aimed towards a specific audience, I felt it was incredibly transgenerational. It was constructed in such a way that showed Sophie looked up to Calum – but Calum also looked up to Sophie; adoring her courage, confidence, fear and maturity. Throughout the movie, one notices how much the characters evolve and how Sophie’s ability to reflect on certain emotions increases. The story does not end there. The film comes to a close with a heartbreaking dance scene. It is the filmographic climax combining the dance motif that is used throughout the drama with Calum losing control over his frame of mind. The uncertainty of the closing scene has a powerful effect. Wells chooses this open end which is a crucial aspect of how the movie fulfils its purpose. As an audience, we feel attached to Calum and Sophie and explore the different emotional patterns both individuals go through. Aftersun is pure, melancholic and heart-wrenching.


Featured image courtesy of A24.