“Aftersun” (2022)- Movie Review

Writer/Director: Charlotte Wells

Starring: Frankie Corio, Paul Mescal

                                                                                                       ‘Magnificent Masterpiece’

Fathers are inspirational figures that ensure children’s success rather than failures. Being role models, fathers motivate children to pursue dreams of becoming famed filmmakers. Like Atticus Finch, fathers motivate children to overcome obstacles. Patriarchs build a place beyond the pines where children can chase dreams throughout space. There’s nothing stronger in world than interstellar bonds between fathers and daughters. A source of pride rather than shame, fathers encourage children to call them by their name. Shining light in darkness, patriarchs contribute to children’s pursuit of happiness. Despite being committed toward raising children that are gifted, fathers are impacted by hardships. From a personal view, I’ve learned fathers go through great lengths to make children’s dreams come true. My fatherhood memories date back to my boyhood. In 2003, my family faced trauma when bombs hit our home in Saudi Arabia. In a tense scenario, my dad emerged as a hero. Even with all odds stacked against his favor, he rescued my family from danger. His drive to stay alive allowed my family to survive. After this nightmare, I’m aware of burden that fathers bear. Years later, it’s a memory I still vividly remember. It has altered my attitude to parents to whom I owe gratitude. If there’s any wisdom I imparted, never take parents for granted. In retrospect, it has led to greater parent respect. I’m grateful to my dad for setting examples as a role model. How do fathers fulfill responsibility of raising families?

As someone deeply affected by relationships with my dad, I related with Charlotte Well’s Oscar-nominated film “Aftersun”. An intimate, heartbreaking and thoughtful arthouse drama, it proves movies can allow people to revisit childhood memories of fathers shaping their identities. Wells pens a passionate love letter to all hard-working patriarchs around the world under pressure. Boasting breathtaking production-design, soul-stirring storytelling and powerful performances, it’s a masterpiece. Ultimately, its heartwarming message will touch everyone with fond memory of fathers. 

Amidst 1990’s Turkey, “Aftersun” follows a daughter’s recollections of her dad in vacations. Frankie Corio embodies Sophie, a downhearted teen seeking to be accepted by parents years after being separated. When divorced dad Callum (Paul Mescal) takes her on a vacation out of the blue, Sophie’s dreams come true. However, Sophie’s affections for her father deteriorate when she discovers his depression. Crumbling under pressure, Sophie wonders whether her relationship will last forever.

Charlotte Wells is fascinated with fatherhood. Her short film “Tuesday” captured a teenage girl’s dismay forced to spend time with her estranged dad on a Tuesday. With “Aftersun”, however, Wells crafts her first fatherhood feature. It’s Wells’ first attempt at capturing memories of her father that inspired her to become a filmmaker, but she succeeds. Through captivating cinematography, Wells captures a daughter’s family recollections. Evoking Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans”, Wells captures memories of parents through MiniDV footage. Recalling Sammy Fabelman’s camera capturing parents shaping his passion for Cinema, Sophie envisions her father using a camera. Like flipping through family album photos, the miniDV footage allows viewers to cherish their family memory. MiniDV footage is tricky. As Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty” proved, MiniDV footage elevates comedies about dads seeking beauty. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Alongside cinematographer Gregory Oke, Wells honors memories. Wells commemorates parenting, crafting a film that deserves theatrical viewing.

If fathers’ stories don’t attract you towards theaters, however, there’s countless reasons to see “Aftersun”. Accompanied by composer Oliver Coates, Wells chooses songs capturing patriarchs under pressure. For instance, music captures patriarch’s’ emotions during the final dance sequence. During this heartbreaking scene, Sophie spends her final day with dad dancing to the Queen song “Under Pressure”. One appreciates how music reflects emotions recalling Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name”. Recalling Elio’s dance with Oliver before his departure, Sophie waltzes with her father. Rock music is a tricky technique. As Marc Webb’s “Gifted” proved, rock music leaves viewers irritated when emphasizing emotions of children that are gifted. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Moreover, Billur Turan’s set-design is spectacular. Evoking Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants”, small-town locations build father-daughter tensions. Through production-design, Wells celebrates fatherhood.

Another extraordinary “Aftersun” aspect is the screenplay. Wells’ screenwriting strength is painting compassionate father-daughter relationship portraits through minimal dialogue. In Hollywood, movies rarely address caregivers’ stress affecting abilities to nurture children with success. Case-in-point: Gabriele Muccino’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” portrayed dads as strong-willed heroes overcoming homelessness without facing darkness in pursuit of happiness. Sensibly, however, Wells avoids sugarcoating fatherhood. Evoking Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”, Wells uses minimal dialogue to convey patriarch’s struggles fulfilling caregivers’ roles. Recalling Mason’s relationship with his silent mother whose struggles are misunderstood during boyhood, Callum conceals depression from Sophie through non-verbal communication. The bond depicted reminded me of my own relationship with my dad where words aren’t needed for love to be communicated. Minimal dialogue is problematic. Lack of dialogue is criticized by audiences for being a source of boredom rather than wisdom. Ever since 1979’s “Kramer v. Kramer”, Hollywood establishes parent-child relationships through conversations. As Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” proved, watching families surviving in the wilderness without dialogue creates sadness. Nevertheless, the technique succeeds. Through soul-stirring storytelling, Wells demonstrates patriarchs’ plight.

One appreciates astonishing performances. 

Frankie Corio delivers a star-making performance as Sophie. In her debut role, Corio pours soul into a teenager with emotional toll. It’s challenging to personify teenage girls. However, Corio succeeds. Evoking MacKenzie Foy in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”, Corio embodies a teen whose bond with her father transcends interstellar barriers. With riveting expressions, she conveys angst, childlike curiosity and resentments of a teenager seeking truth about her father. Given her charisma, it’s surprising to discover this is her first time in front of camera. It’s a career-launching performance.

Paul Mescal is powerful as a father under pressure to care for his daughter. Evoking Ryan Gosling in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines”, he crafts a compelling father going to desperate measures riding like lightning only to crash like thunder. Mescal effectively captures pressures faced by fathers through gestures. Whether he’s shedding tears following birthdays or dancing with his daughter under pressure, Mescal personifies patriarchs through gestures. It’s an extraordinary performance.

Finally, “Aftersun” earns appreciation of everyone raised by patriarchs as innocent as mockingbirds that are inspirations. Evoking Robert Mulligan’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the film captures father’s larger-than-life natures. The film tackles themes of adolescence, depression and parenting. Despite depicting Scottish families in the 1990’s, it captures 21st Century parenting. Witnessing Sophie bond with her father brought back memories of my own dad. Therefore, everyone will enjoy “Aftersun”.

Fans of arthouse dramas will certainly recognize “Aftersun” and so will audiences looking for heartbreaking entertainment. A mesmerizing masterpiece, it proves movies are an art-form which can honor fathers that hold a precious place in one’s heart. As melodious as the symphonies Sophie dances to with her dad under pressure in last heartbreaking days of vacation, it’s a soul-stirring reminder about repercussions faced by fathers paying institutionalizations concealing depression that teaches modern fathers important life-changing lesson acknowledgements building bonds with children.

A devastating depiction of danger signs faced by fathers, it’s a grim reminder of consequences endured by dads putting lives on the line robbing banks to build place beyond the pines for kids even when it leads their mental health to experience declines.

As a symbol of light shining in pitch-black darkness, hopefully it will raise greater awareness for feelings of hopelessness faced by dads that sacrifice everything putting their careers in risk for sake of securing their children’s pursuit of happiness.

If movies have powers to bring back memories of parents in boyhood journeys, it’s a soul-stirring tribute towards divorced dads taking out time from their busy schedule to witness children grow up over 12 years shaping teenage sons’ personalities.

Like valuable cameras Sophie uses to remember her father, it’s a reassuring reminder movies could allow me to recover years after catastrophe disaster by recognizing my dad’s humongous role in shaping my life whose inspirational presence I will forever treasure. 

5/5 stars

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