Sophie reflects on the shared joy and private melancholy of a holiday she took with her father twenty years earlier. Memories real and imagined fill the gaps between as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t.
Paul Mescal’s career took off in 2020 with lockdown sensation Normal People; his first foray into the world of film, The Lost Daughter was perhaps not as much of an effective showcase for the blossoming Irish talent. His latest film Aftersun, from debut director Charlotte Wells has earned rave reviews across the festival circuit and is a more than worthy demonstration of Mescal’s clear talent and star power.
Aftersun sees eleven year old Sophie on holiday with her dad Charlie in his early 30s in Turkey at a run down tourist resort, set during an unspecified point in the 1990s. Charlie has split up from Sophie’s mum but there is clearly a strong bond between the pair and the film focuses on the yin and yang of their relationship with it mostly a two hander between Mescal and Frankie Corio as Sophie.
What might he a hard sell on paper is such an evocative, inventive tale that is sure to evoke memories of the joyful bliss of youth and the innocence associated with it, playing pranks on a band at the resort and sneaking off with other kids. While Mescal will clearly nab the headlines, Corio’s work as Sophie is nothing short of stellar, capturing Sophie’s curiosity and both the ups and downs of her relationship with her dad.
Mescal here gives perhaps his strongest performance to date excelling at showcasing Charlie’s dissatisfaction with his predicament in life but wanting to put on a brave face for Sophie, it’s an incredibly layered performance exuberant and joyful one moment and piercingly sad just moments later. Mescal commits with a clear knack for physical comedy and committing himself to dance moves, also boasting supreme chemistry with his youthful co-star.
The 90s period setting and use of the resort and glimpses beyond it really capture this as a moment in time and the use of music especially is revelatory deconstructing several songs and sure to give them a sense of new-meaning to some especially Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure which has a hugely profound sequence towards the film’s climax and indeed the climax of the pair’s holiday. Other 90s needle drops include Tender by Blur, Tubthumping by Chumbawamba and Oh Lucky You by The Lightning Seeds, each heightening the sense of nostalgia.
For a debut feature this truly is a mesmeric work not losing itself in cliche or holding the audiences hand and this makes its melancholic and ultimately gut punch moments later on hit harder, sure to be one to work up the audience’s emotions and its more mysterious moments early on as we cut to several short club sequences that bear little connection to the main narrative, will surely reward multiple viewings.
Wells is clearly a supremely confident voice and has marked herself immediately as one to be heard delivering a beguiling, heartfelt and deeply tender take on a relationship between a father and his daughter and their contrasting outlooks on life with very clever techniques on display, not least the use of video recorders throughout.
Aftersun is a tour de force for its two leads, a phenomenal child performance from Frankie Corio with Paul Mescal cementing himself as one of the best actors of his generation and showcasing incredible range (managing to impress with his Scottish accent too!). It is a warm, heartfelt, often funny and ultimately devastating film that has rightly lapped up the plaudits since its premiere at Cannes and will surely enthral audiences succeeding wonderfully at capturing a particular moment in childhood and re-creating its 90s setting.