Aftersun is a melancholic exploration of a father-daughter bond

OWe have centuries of stories about how boys relate — or don’t — to their mothers. But in movies, reflections on how daughters feel about their fathers, told from a woman’s perspective, are still relatively rare. This is the territory of the magnificent and resounding debut of Scottish screenwriter and director Charlotte Wells After Sun.

The film begins with an interrogation: it’s the mid-1990s and 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) points a video camera at her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), who has taken her to Turkey for a rare vacation break. . “When you were 11, what did you think you were doing now? she asks, her innocence being the exacting kind so common among very young people. Calum, whose life we ​​know next to nothing beyond the fact that he’s estranged from Sophie’s mother, doesn’t want to answer the question, at least on camera.

What follows, as this father-daughter duo play pool together, explore local ruins and attempt diving (until Sophie loses her mask), is a wistful acknowledgment of how little we can truly understand about our parents. before becoming adults ourselves. What’s wonderful about Wells’ instinct and her sense of craftsmanship is that she never tells us anything. Yet we come away feeling like we know these people, even if we are unclear about all the details of their lives.

Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio in “Aftersun”

Courtesy of A24

We learn a few things along the way: There’s something carefree about Calum — he shows up for the holidays with his arm in a cast, which he later carves out himself. (You are not alone if you think of Sofia Coppola Somewhere, another delicate and contemplative film on a similar subject.) He was not and will not be the best father. Although Wells mostly focuses on this brief vacation, she occasionally drifts to the present, where we see snapshots of adult Sophie’s life. She has a partner and a child of her own. She’s also mad at her dad, irritated by something we can’t quite grasp. (Wells and cinematographer Gregory Okes give some of this footage a dreamlike quality, almost like a child’s blurry vision of the future.) And we quickly learn that money is a problem. It becomes clear that although Calum has skimped on this vacation, he still doesn’t have enough to give Sophie everything she wants, that way the kids can’t help but want things. Sophie watches the others from their small station glide through the sky and asks Calum if they can do it too. He doesn’t answer, a non-answer that cuts like a scalpel. Being a kid who wants things isn’t that hard; many of us recover from it. But being a parent who can’t provide those things is excruciating, a reality we usually can’t grasp as children, though as adults we often come to understand it. And then the idea of ​​our parents’ anguish at letting us down also tears us apart.

Read more reviews from Stephanie Zacharek

The performances here are quiet wonders. Frankie is precocious and curious – she spies on some older girls, as if to guess some of their teenage secrets, and experiences her first kiss with a sweet, friendly boy who is also on vacation with his parents. Corio moves through the performance with natural grace, but she shows us just how perceptive Sophie is, catching her father’s thinking even as he tries to hide it from her – and even though, as a child, she doesn’t. I’m not supposed to have to worry about such things. It’s like she’s filing those perceptions for the future, knowing she can’t process them now, with her childish view of life and the world.

And Mescal is terrific, playing a man who goes through nameless trials Something it’s about to tear him apart, even as he tries hard to be there for his daughter. Sometimes he loses patience with her, you see why, but it’s still painful to watch. If only we could wish for that tension for these characters. At one point we watch, as Sophie does, as he quietly performs Tai Chi movements, trying to find a center he has lost sight of, to achieve a kind of peace through muscle movement. We don’t see his face, but loneliness clings to him like a coat. Mescal reveals without showing, communicating with us in a language that goes beyond words, even sight.

Later, Sophie joins him in Tai Chi, and they move in unison, probably breathing together. They belong to each other, but they are entering a period of stress and estrangement. After Sun takes place when a father and his daughter begin to lose sight of each other. Reconnection happens or it doesn’t, but either way, it can be a bumpy ride. Once a girl becomes an adult, she sometimes forgets what her father meant at that time. But After Sun remember.

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