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AFTERSUN (2022)  l  Sphere Films  |  October 28, 2022

Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall

Director: Charlotte Wells

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.

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TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

Aftersun features two excellent performances from Paul Mescal and newcomer Francesca Corio in this emotional look at a father-daughter relationship, which for better or for worse, leaves more unsaid as it strives to create an honest coming of age story. 

 

For her written and directorial feature film debut, Charlotte Wells has crafted one of the most emotionally compelling films of the year, exploring a father-daughter relationship while the two share a vacation. While on the surface this sounds like a rather straightforward premise, it is told from the perspective of the daughter grown up, remembering this trip. What starts off as a fond memory, the audience soon figures out that there is a reason why the narrator is deciding to reflect on this trip and her relationship with her father all these years later. Wells slowly begins to show the cracks in this relationship as the trip progresses, as you see a young father struggling at being the father he wants to be, while his daughter begins to grow up and experience new things without the guidance of her father. It’s emotionally charged, enough to put a lump in your throat as you watch the events of this trip play out. But instead of telling you everything, Wells leaves it open to your own interpretation. 

 

It is clear that the relationship no longer exists in the future between this young woman and her father, as evidenced through the night club dance sequences where we see a grown up Sophie see her father dancing across the void of darkness. Though Wells never comes out and says what happened, leaving that up to the audience to put together. There are enough hints throughout the film to suggest what happened to the relationship, but it would have packed a more emotional punch if we knew what caused the relationship to break down. This crucial piece of information would have provided context to adult Sophie’s state of mind and why she was drawn back to this specific trip while looking at starting her own family, framing the story for the film as a whole. It was the film’s biggest downfall for me personally, causing the film to feel long at times with my attention wandering, which is never something I want in a film with a run time of ninety-six minutes, but this is merely a matter of personal choice as many critics are heralding Aftersun as a triumph in filmmaking. 

 

What everyone agrees on is the incredible performances from Paul Mescal and Francesca Corio. Mescal has quickly risen in the past few years, making himself one of the most promising young talents after turns in Normal People, The Lost Daughter and Carmen (also at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival), and he once again proves himself with his performance as Calum. There is an emotional vulnerability to him, creating an aching portrayal of a young man clearly struggling with being a father and the responsibilities that come with it, while trying to hold everything together for his daughter. It is a performance where far more is left unsaid, but Mescal ensures that you feel every heartache of his character. 

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Opposite Mescal is Corio, who is nothing short of excellent. In her film debut, Corio lights up the screen with her magnetic personality capturing all the excitement of being on vacation, while also beginning to experience many firsts in her life. At the same time, Corio brings an awareness to the role as she slowly begins to realize her father’s struggle with a wisdom far beyond her age. It’s this talent that makes her and Mescal an outstanding father-daughter pairing on screen. There is a tenderness between them that captures the fragility and endearing bond between their characters, which fully bonds the audience to the characters. 

 

Though, it is the use of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” which fully captures the father-daughter relationship at the heart of the story. Never has this song been better used to capture the story of the characters in a film, with the line “this is our last dance” capturing their final moment together which closes out the film, while the lyrics around the titular pressure evokes both the moments of both Mescal and Corio’s characters’ arcs. By itself it is one of the greatest songs of all time, but it hits on an entirely different emotional level in this film, making for one of the best uses of a song in a film this year. 

 

There is no denying that Paul Mescal and Francesca Corio are nothing short of outstanding and that Charlotte Wells has true talent as a writer and director, though the ambiguity to the reason why this trip is being remembered and the ultimate ending to the characters’ relationship prevented Aftersun from being the slam dunk for me personally that it was for so many other critics.

RATING: 3 out of 5