(This article may contain slight spoilers for Aftersun!! Read carefully)
Charlotte Wells's directorial debut Aftersun is the story of a daughter reminiscing on her remaining memories of her father when already an adult and parent. This Oscar-nominated movie was listed as the 17th best film of 2022 according to the BBC, also having an audience score of 95% on the website Rotten Tomatoes. Aftersun has also won various awards, including 7 BIFAS (British Independent Film Awards) and a Bafta for Best Directorial Debut.
Set on a vacation in Turkey in the early 2000s, the movie follows Sophie, an 11-year-old girl, and Callum, her father, who is in his 30’s. The story shows them essentially being tourists, doing things such as scuba diving, going to the pool, playing arcade games, etc. However, every once in a while, the movie fades to a black screen with Callum screaming and dancing, as well as flashing lights. These scenes contrast the other shots of their "perfect" vacation, suggesting that something troubling might happen later, or that the dynamics between father and daughter might change.
The film’s cinematography is an absolute masterpiece: it displays a homey, memory effect with a comforting color scheme -- usually consisting of sunnier, warmer shades -- to reflect the hotter, happy summer days of Sophie’s childhood.
The movie deals with various themes, focusing on depression and grief. Callum suffers from depression which is something he hides. You can tell that in scenes where they are outside, or even only him and Sophie, he is funny, loving, and caring; however, when seen alone, he is usually crying or having some sort of breakdown. Something I enjoyed about Aftersun is the fact that a large part of the film is up to the viewer’s interpretation, which is why some people may dislike it so much. We are so used to the ending of stories being spoon-fed to us that it becomes fun to have to analyze the conclusion and film as a whole sometimes.
The soundtrack choice for the last scene was impeccable as well. Under Pressure is not only a well-known and loved song by many, myself included, but the lyrics of the selected part of the song match perfectly with what was going on in the last scene -- not to mention how beautifully edited that part was. The strings and synths of Freddie Mercury & David Bowie’s isolated vocals made the scene even more emotional, and it is very much safe to say that I left the cinema with runny mascara and puffy eyes while my dad (whom I watched the movie with) said I was just overreacting (I very much was not, he just did not get it as much as I did).
Beyond that, the plot was well-written and interesting. It may feel boring or slow depending on how it is interpreted; overall, the concept is very vague and the movie may even be considered to be about “nothing”. But I am truly a sucker for movies like these -- for example: Before Sunset. Being able to interpret the main ideas of a story is so much fun and that is why I truly enjoy movies with vague plots. It is up to one’s imagination. Nonetheless, I do understand why people may dislike this type of movie: they can get boring throughout, and some people just dislike the extra work that it takes to make sense of a movie.
The editing of the movie, in my opinion, was flawless. What made it beautiful was its simplicity, and its ability to be emotional without being over the top, which was recognized during the awards season. It was not over the top and it did feel very comforting, which matched perfectly with the vibe of the movie: it is very simple, and the editing was able to fully match that. The cinematography was also impeccable, and just like with the editing, the simplicity made it perfect. Nowadays we are so used to watching movies that have beautiful yet exaggerated cinematography or CGI, which can be interesting; however, it does not match every single film. Fantasy movies work well with over-the-top cinematography and CGI, but films such as Aftersun work better with simpler techniques.
The color schemes, as I previously mentioned, also matched well with everything else going on, the scenery was gorgeous, the camera quality was really good, and even when they use a different, older camera, it still gives off an amazing effect that matches well with the film’s cozy plot and atmosphere.
The acting was marvelous and, in my opinion, very much Oscar-worthy. Paul Mescal was able to play the role of Callum perfectly, and there is very much a reason for the Oscar awarded to him. This, however, was not Paul’s first time playing a character who struggles mentally: in his first television role, Paul interpreted Connell Waldron, a character from Sally Rooney’s romance Normal People (which I sincerely recommend, by the way), who suffers from anxiety and depression, and whose mental health spiraled after leaving his home town for college in Dublin. Paul is drawn to characters with complicated lives and excels in playing them.
Aftersun was also Frankie Corio’s -- the actor who played Sophie -- acting debut, and I think she did amazing. She was only 12 whilst filming, and, according to friends and family, she tends to be a very over-the-top and loud person, which is quite opposite in the film in which she plays a calm girl. I think that for someone my age, she did amazing.
The directing of Charlotte Wells was lovely for a debut. I found that she paid enough attention to the small details and the bigger points. Aftersun was a masterpiece, and the directing of it was no different. In the words of Ms. Tamara, “Everything in a story happens for a reason”, which applies very well to Aftersun. Even the slightest decisions in Aftersun have a meaning. Aftersun is also a semi-autobiographical film, which I think could be one of the reasons why it is just so good and why Charlotte Wells’ did such a superb job of directing it. It very much fulfills the effect of feeling like we are looking back into Sophie’s memory because it is based on Charlotte Wells’ memory of her father. Charlotte has had this idea and has tested it out for 8 years before its official film debut, it all came from examining old photographs of the holiday she had with her father. When it came to making the movie, she did everything precisely and cast who she found reminded her of herself and her father. She worked very hard and long to get the result out, and I feel like that is why Aftersun is such a good film, the amount of work put into it is amazing. It is so intimate and so realistic, and I believe that the fact that this was based on Charlotte’s personal experience helped to add a realistic effect since she lived the story and made the direction of the movie & the movie in general way more emotional because of it.
Charlotte Wells and her father in the same resort as the story takes place in
The one negative aspect of the movie is that it is not for everyone. As previously stated, Aftersun is a movie where the viewer needs to truly pay attention and analyze, so if you don’t enjoy movies of this type you will find Aftersun monotone. I went to go see it with my dad, and he was not a fan: he found it to be quite boring. But that is because we have different tastes in movies, and whilst he may enjoy movies where you are “spoon-fed” the plot, I enjoy movies where it is more up to the viewer’s imagination to interpret it.
Overall, I enjoyed Aftersun, and I think that for a directorial debut, it is truly a masterpiece. It was able to grasp such interesting and important topics in such a beautiful and simple way. I do truly believe that Aftersun is an Oscar-worthy film and that it was robbed by only being indicated for one Oscar, and it is certainly one of the best movies I have watched so far in 2023.