New York 2022 Review: Building Memories in AFTERSUN
We all know that our memories are subjective. Our brains tend to obscure, distort and falsify as well as heighten, protect and heal, depending on how you want to remember that moments or person in your life. Scottish newcomer Charlotte Wells's staggering achievement, Aftersun, is a poignant and deeply personal examination of those memories, told in a small, family vacation travelogue.
Going back and forth with Hi-8 handicam footage shot by both father and daughter, Aftersun plays out like a family vacation home movie - a young father (Paul Mescal) and his 11-year old daughter Sophie (Francesca Corio) are in a resort in sunny Turkey. Mom's at work and couldn't come (the reasoning behind this is little fuzzy), so it's an opportunity for them spending a short time together. After a little snag at their room - he reserved a room with two beds but there is only one bed, they settle in and have great time hanging out at the pool during daytime and at the outdoor cafe at night. They are a jovial pair, always laughing and having the grandest time.
There are some unexplained details through out - Dad has a cast on one of his arms, flashes of an older woman that Dad confronts on the dance floor in the resort, like dream sequences that later reveal their meanings. Young people remark if they are brother and sister, since dad looks so young. Dad just shrugs it off while Sophie takes it as a compliment in her 11-year old mind.
Dad and Sophie obsessively watches the video footage they shot in their quiet times, rewinding through the pixelated images of their happy days, as if they will discover some details they have missed, or there's going to be some kind of indication or clue to something that is different than the overly happy experiences that they are having.
Things take a slightly different tone when Sophie loses her diving goggles, an expensive item dad bought for her, in one of the boat ride excursions. She apologizes again and again profusely, in which always cheerful dad comforts her that it's not important. He dives deep in to the water retrieve them and we cut to the next scene. From then on, there are glimpses of unsettling, unexplained moments popping up - Dad gets moody and not talkative, at night, while Sophie is giddily watching the video footage they shot, Dad removes the cast in his arms painfully in an in-camera split screen shot, Sophie witnessing grownups making out in the shadows, dad refusing to sing the bad rendition of R.E.M.'S Losing My Religion at an outdoor karaoke...
Surely there are other significant moments of growing up - the first kiss with the boy who plays arcade games next to her, drinking beer with older kids at the billiards table, etc.
By the end, we realize that the vacation was the last time they saw each other. And Sophie, now some twenty years later, trying to recount her relationship with her father: the ideal father, the good memories and how we all want to suppress bad memories and remember only the good moments, forever.
Wells, with the help of Mescal and Corio, builds a touching tribute to a father-daughter relationship. Aftersun will make a great double feature with Chantal Akerman's News from Home.
- Charlotte Wells
- Charlotte Wells
- Paul Mescal
- Frankie Corio
- Celia Rowlson-Hall