“I think it's nice that we share the same sky.’’ Sophie (young Frankie Corio)
In Aftersun, 31-year-old Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) remembers a vacation in the ‘90’s when she was 11 with her father, Calum (Paul Mescal, Oscar-nominated for this role) that helps frame her impressions of their relationship. Because the story withholds crucial information, “impressions” is the operative word here, where mostly fragmented moments have to supply the narrative of love and trust. Because we must supply details, director Charlotte Wells allows us to identify more closely with them while the story more easily universalizes.
The above quote hints at the broad and imprecise connection that must be pieced together from memory, impressions rather than hard facts. Try as a grown woman she must search as we all in one way or another do.
Like the lotion of the title, the film memories are a balm for the lack of memory precision, an after-application to help the memories stay fresh and harmless. The pictures are frequently surface but forceful, the final scene with the camera offering a hint of Calum struggling over something that brought him to tears. Unrest is rampant. Because the film is circumspect and episodic, like the reason for his injured wrist or leaving Edinburgh for London without Sophie, knowing the cause of his unrest is hidden in the impressions.
This often-cryptic narrative by writer/director Wells forces us to infer the cause of some of Calum’s despair and the lack of explanation for Sophie’s mature recollections of her dad. Composer Oliver Coates’s score is just minimalist enough to add to the lack of knowledge motif.
For 11-year-old Sophie, the resort introduces her to coming-of-age connections with teens older but accepting her as a skilled billiards player who can experience adolescent pleasures like pranks and a first kiss with video-game enthusiast Michael (Brooklyn Toulson). Dad’s protectiveness, such as teaching her self-defense, is stifling at times, lovingly distant at others. When he goes to his meditation books or practices tai chi, he appears to be trying to understand and accept the world and hers in particular. He is searching life just as she is searching for him.
Aftersun, then, like the paragliders Sophie admires, offers few answers in that remoteness but an enduring reminder of searching for our parents in the incomprehensible void of memory. This is a challenging and rewarding art movie that will keep you thinking about memory long after you leave the theater.
Director: Charlotte Wells
Cast: Paul Mescal (The Lost Daughter), Frankie Cario (The Bagman)
Run Time: 1h 42m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com