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Aftersun review: A heartbreaking tale of love, fatherhood, and alienation

An evocative slow-burner with mesmerising performances by its lead actors

4/5rating
Aftersun review: A heartbreaking tale of love, fatherhood, and alienation
  • Ryan Gomez

Last Updated: 03.34 PM, Jan 06, 2023

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Story: Aftersun is told through the eyes of an 11-year-old named Sophie (Frankie Corio), as she travels to Turkey for a holiday with her father, Calum (Paul Mescal). It soon becomes evident that Calum is struggling to cope with the weight of expectations of being a young father, despite the love and affection he has for his daughter.

Review: There are films that completely grab one’s attention from minute one till the end credits roll. But then there are films that will take their time to settle and the impact of the story will only be felt after the end credits start rolling. Aftersun falls into the second category and it possibly does it better than any film in recent years. The ending of the film appears almost nonchalant at first, but it is executed to perfection in a manner which is deeply moving.

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The plot of the film is almost non-existent, and it is quite remarkable how the narrative still manages to keep one completely invested in these characters despite its wafer-thin story. As the narrative progresses the audience will be compelled to feel a sense of angst and impending danger despite the story featuring absolutely none at all. But the one thing that quickly becomes evident is the fact that Calum is suffering from depression. It is never explicitly communicated to the audience but writer and director Charlotte Wells has added subtle clues throughout the story to highlight Calum’s plight.

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There is also a scene where Sophie describes the feeling of depression without even realising what she was explaining. Calum’s reaction in this scene is among the few instances where the film acknowledges Calum's mental well-being with less subtlety. The scenes do not cut away quickly after a particular exchange between the characters, but it lingers on them until the audience can comprehend the consequences of the dialogue and the frame. In fact, each shot is crafted with careful attention to symbolising Sophie and Calum’s respective mental states and how they perceive the holiday.

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*SPOILERS AHEAD*

The film ends in the present day with an older Sophie reminiscing about her final vacation with her father before he took his own life. All she has left of him are photographs and videos from their time together. Of course, there is no exposition given about any of these details in the film but it is heavily implied. The final scene can be construed as Sophie trying to remember the good times with her father but also coming to terms with what he was going through at the time. There is also a hint that Sophie may be suffering from depression of her own.

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Verdict: The lead stars Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio deliver outstanding performances in Charlotte Wells’s feature film debut as director. Wells provides very little exposition for the story and respects the intelligence of the film’s audience to piece together a tragic tale of a woman trying to understand her father.

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