Five stars for the new Paul Mescal movie. This is one for the ages – The Irish Times

After the sun

Director: charlotte wells

certificate: 15A

Protagonist: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Brooklyn Toulson, Sally Messham, Spike Fearn

Execution time: 1 hour 42 minutes

One of memory’s cruelest tricks is to remind us that we often didn’t know we were experiencing our most significant moments. That cruelty is at the heart of this wonderfully moving first feature from Charlotte Wells. Paul Mescal is convincingly Scottish as Calum, a young father vacationing in Turkey with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) in the late 1990s. That setting is tinged with potential menace. Could Sophie disappear? What’s with these older guys lurking in the back of the complex? The film is not based on a trick drama as, with no interest in three-act structures, it smoothly evades the conflicts that screenwriting gurus often call for. Put aside cheap expectations.

Aftersun comes across as relaxed about his surroundings, neither mocking the package holiday aesthetic nor enthusiastically celebrating his now-old-fashioned structured entertainments. The director does well to let us see the action through both the girl’s unquestioning gaze and the adult woman’s rueful reflections. Shown only out of the corner of his eye, that adult filmmaker, like Wells, now apparently residing in the United States, has videos of the holiday to help piece together his past. Interspersed with sharper 35mm footage from Gregory Oke, the videotapes show a happy couple bantering and waving from the pool to the bedroom to the airport. However, something is always dragging the idyllic flow. Aftersun’s greatest achievement is gradually revealing the imminence of a tragedy that, while never explicitly confirmed, is felt inescapable by the already celebrated final shot. It’s hard to think of another movie that has pulled off this trick so effectively.

None of this could work as well without the strong performances of the two leads. Despite being hampered by the lockdown conditions, Mescal and Corio somehow made an incredibly strong connection. Separated from the boy’s mother, though still apparently on decent terms, Calum comes off as more of an older brother than a father, but we see his efforts, in a very millennial way, to establish a benign hierarchy. “You can talk to me about anything: the parties you go to, the guys you meet, the drugs you take,” he says, his voice thick with North Atlantic shame at the revealed emotion. Mescal almost hides a lingering unhappiness that only takes full advantage when Calum is not in immediate contact with his daughter. There is a feeling of a man always eager to put his head in his hands.

Aftersun is all about noticing what we didn’t notice at the time (something more prevalent in the age of ubiquitous video recording). All this is implicit. Corio’s amazingly natural and unforced acting gives us a smart kid who can tell when things go wrong, but he’s not yet mature enough to assemble the sinister pieces into an imposing whole. Aftersun is a sad movie that is mostly about a young man being happy.

In fact, flick through the image at a brisk pace and you might mistake it for a nostalgic dream. The cinematography has the saturated quality of the now outdated Kodak Instamatic. The songs are chosen not for their retrospective freshness (you’ll listen in vain to My Bloody Valentine) but for their ubiquity in contemporary Mediterranean resorts. The fulcrum of the film comes when, at a karaoke session, Frankie sings a then-popular American classic with just enough honk-honking tonality to seem human, but not enough to push the scene into comedic territory. All of this comes together as a gently rolled package of reverie and regret.

Produced by barry jenkinsMoonlight director Aftersun premiered in the quieter sidebar of International Critics Week in Cannes to raves Wells can hardly have dared to dream of. Now already in many critics’ annual top 10, the film is sure to meet with some backlash. It will survive that. One for the ages.

Aftersun launches on Friday, November 18

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