New York Film Festival : Review – ‘Aftersun’ is a Captivating, Intimate Father-Daughter Story

New York Film Festival : Review – ‘Aftersun’ is a Captivating, Intimate Father-Daughter Story

There is a special bond that can exist between a father and daughter. What it looks like depends greatly on a variety of circumstances, including the presence of another parent or other siblings, and whether time together is a regular occurrence that is normal and expected or an infrequent delight that proves far too fleeting. Interactions may take on a different significance upon reflection in adulthood, and it’s definitely possible to romanticize imperfect moments. Aftersun captures just that: a whirlwind two-person trip full of impactful memories and unpredictably changing emotions.

The film opens on eleven-year-old Sophie (Francesca Corio) filming her father Calum (Paul Mescal), expressing that he is days away from celebrating his 131st birthday. The obviously much younger father has brought his daughter for a holiday getaway at a resort, where they interact as if they are both adults, and are in certain cases assumed to be brother and sister. Sophie plays a car racing video game with another boy her age and hangs out with a group of teenagers who appreciate her pool skills in between meals and other activities during which Calum and Sophie often just sit together in silence, taking it all in and basking in the relaxation.

Aftersun is a remarkable feature film debut from director Charlotte Wells, who has a caring eye for the characters whose story she is telling. There is very little of substance that actually happens over the course of the film’s 97-minute runtime, yet every moment still feels real and lived-in. There’s no need for blow-up fights or earth-shattering real-world conversations when they have simple, spontaneous discussions about why Calum and Sophie’s mother still say “I love you” to each other on the phone or what skills Calum thinks Sophie will need to possess to eventually become a self-sufficient adult. This film is a series of those genuine scenes, structured together with the dreamlike backdrop of their vacation.


Mescal, who is just twenty-six years old and has already turned in a handful of impressive performances in Hulu’s Normal People and two other festival favorites this year, Carmen and God’s Creatures, is incredibly natural as Calum, charming his daughter with his awkward dance moves and enthusiasm and then shifting seamlessly into a more sedated and uncommunicative state. He communicates a lifetime of experience with remarkably few words, making for a magnetic turn. Opposite him in her astounding film debut is the incredible Corio, who exhibits all the traits of a talkative, overactive child seemingly capable of tremendous maturity only to be shattered by a sudden discovery that she does not know where she is and doesn’t immediately know who to ask for help.

These two extremely capable performers, who should have extensive careers ahead of them after this film, are sensitively guided by Wells, who has a precise vision for her narrative that comes to marvelous life on screen. It’s easy to become entranced by a film devoid of big or splashy moments, and frequent flashes of Calum and an adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) in a club with strobe lights only serve to make it feel more like a dream. Its lack of a proper or definitive resolution may frustrate some viewers but only serves to further underline the formative nature of experiences like this for Sophie, who may forever see her father in this way even if their relationship didn’t always look the same. Aftersun is an involving, intoxicating experience in itself, one that will surely have greater resonance for audiences feeling nostalgic about the time they may or may not have spent with their own fathers, revisited poignantly in this formidable acting showcase.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

After making its NY premiere at the New York Film Festival in the Main Slate, Aftersun will be released in theaters on Friday, October 21st.

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