Onto the final release of the weekend and I finished watching the much hyped English film Aftersun which is streaming on Mubi. The film was on my watchlist for a very long time wherein I had heard so many good things about the film. Its subject was intriguing enough to take me on a nostalgic trip until I did read the beautiful review of Rahul Desai on OTT Play. In his review he had mentioned on how he had under-appreciated the film during its premiere at the IFFK only to love it during his second watch on Mubi. The important thing which he did highlight was the gaze of watching the film. And so I decided to scrap my nostalgic ambitions with the film and instead went in with a clean slate. So then does Aftersun manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Aftersun is a melancholic story of Sophie who reflects on her past featuring some of the happy moments which she spent with her dad. The story is beautifully heartbreaking and heartfelt, something that you may not latch onto in its first viewing. The screenplay standing at a shade above 100 minutes makes for a taut yet unhurried and leisurely drama that you unassumingly give a part of yourself with every passing minute(this section will contain mild spoilers).
Before I get to the details of the drama, it is important to address the gaze with which you must approach this film. If you would choose to approach it as a nostalgic trip down memory lane then it is more likely that you will be left disappointed. This is because the drama doesn’t have a single hook in the screenplay, nor a definite start and end. The pixelated beginning featuring a camera with moments being captured is almost an epitome for life where memories are often blurred out. But at the same time, the camera flashes on a smiling protagonist signifying the happy memories that we latch on to, related to our favourite people who aren’t with us anymore. And that is the gaze you need to watch the film with. It is almost a celebration of the most beautifully faded memories along with a tinge of understanding of the individuals related to those memories is what formulates this heartbreaking film.
The events of the drama do seem to appear disjointed but that is how memories are in the first place. You are often transported to certain places from your past which is reminiscent of an object or a person. And so here we see the father-daughter duo enjoying a vacation at a Turkish resort. The daughter is 11 years old and just about discovering adolescence through her observing eye featuring the youth on the island. The father is in his early 30s and that is an age where you aren’t really settled in life nor are you young enough to take risks. The in between age group is something that all the 90s kids would relate to today. We also are told that he has separated with his wife and despite his confused approach, always wishes the best for his daughter. But, he does know fully well that he may not be able to fulfill all her wishes, something that his daughter is oblivious to.
This drama also highlights a fact that we as children would never be able to understand our parents fully until we reach their age. The ever-smiling faces of our parents have a mountain of pain and insecurity held on tightly without an iota of concern reflecting in their body language. And slowly but surely as we do reach their age, we are able to better relate to their actions while we were young. But till then, the next generation is oblivious of our actions and the cycle continues. The same is addressed in the most heart wrenching manner. There is a frequent eye on the time, in a scene where the clock reads the time as 3:09 am, or in another scene where Sophie tells her father that her school starts on Tuesday. So we are an audience are well aware of the eventuality through the mechanism of time, although we wish that it would stand still!
In a beautifully moving scene featuring the confused state of the young father, he inquires about the price of a carpet which he does love only to not buy it in front of his girl. Yet, later on while she is away, he does purchase it, signifying the dilemma in his mind regarding his future and his daughter’s future. He still wants the best for her yet is unsure on how she would perceive him when she would grow up, a feature which is always prevalent in young parents. In another scene, we see the two of them sharing a dance together which does turn out to be their ‘Last Tango’. The events are beautifully melancholic and heartbreaking.
The final airport scene is beautifully constructed too with that moving hand held camera flashing a then happy Sophie as she bids her father a goodbye. Little did she know that this would be a final goodbye as 20 years later, her father is not with her. It is unclear on what happened to him but that was a moment when time froze for the last time, featuring Sophie laughing and creating a happy memory for herself amidst the other blurred ones. And the final memory of her father was indeed a happy one, ahh bittersweet! If this doesn’t make you cry, little things will(this only if you have understood the gaze of the film). Overall, the screenplay might be a niche but is beautifully melancholic and heartbreaking at the same time.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are unassumingly routine, almost like how conversations flow from time to time. The music is beautifully heartfelt while the BGM is sparingly used, allowing most of the raw footage to do most of the talking. The cinematography is good given its theme. Director Charlotte Wells does a magnificent job in constructing an organic and heartbreaking drama that makes for a unique movie watching experience. It would be so easy to dismiss this drama but the deeper you delve, the more heartbreaking it would be!
The performances are brilliant here. Frankie Corio as Sophie is absolutely brilliant, showing her inquisitive side which also has layers of caring that would be discovered in her formative years. Yet, it was a heartfelt performance given the emotional arc that she had. Paul Mescal as Calum is equally brilliant, keeping his vulnerability and insecurity well guarded in front of his daughter yet being in two minds about what future has in store for them together. All other actors are first rate here.
Aftersun is a melancholic ode to the fondest fading memories of life that results in a heartbreaking watch. Available on Mubi and Highly Recommended!