I finally made it into theatres to see Aftersun last week and I can’t tell if I’m underwhelmed or in awe. For those who haven’t heard about Paul Mescal’s latest A24 film, Aftersun follows the relationship of a young girl, Sophie, and her father, Calum. Sophie, who lives primarily with her mother, travels to Turkey with her father and viewers are given a glimpse into their lives. The film is definitely a slice of life, or collection of moments rather than your typical movie. Plainly speaking, not much happens. There is no conflict or resolution, the way viewers are used to seeing. Director, Charlotte Wells, who based the story very much on her and her father, throws out the formulaic movie template and completely takes Aftersun in its own direction. The film is absolutely beautiful to watch and evokes a sort of emotion that is rare. Viewers feel a connection to the the characters and sometimes watching the scenes feels almost like an intrusion. For me this was due to the fact that so many of the scenes are so long that it almost feels like you as a viewer aren’t meant to be seeing them. I’ll use for example a scene near the end of the film where Sophie is supposed to be doing a duet with her father, but she is forced to go on without him. In the film we see Sophie sing the entirety of the song whereas most films cut out ‘boring’ or ‘repetitive’ moments like these. Eventually, these long takes feel awkward and I as a viewer often wondered when they might come to an end. Still, I understand why they are kept this way in the film. By leaving Sophie on the stage to belt the entirety of her duet alone, viewers are left uncomfortable, much as our heroine is meant to feel. This tactic is used throughout and brings an uncanny realism to the film. Often I didn’t feel as though I was watching a movie at all.
As a piece of art, Aftersun is formidable, but as a piece of entertainment, I found it lacking. Every single shot and moment of the film is intentional and strives to achieve an aesthetic or evoke emotion. I took a bit of the film with me as I left the theatre, and if someone asked me if they should see it my answer would be yes. However, if you don’t want to see the film, then keep reading as I sum up the action in one line. Sophie, and her dad go on a trip, and he buys her a rug. An oversimplification of course, but don’t expect much more plot wise. Still, viewers get to see a rare tenderness between a father and his daughter, and it is beautifully touching. In my opinion all films straddle a line between entertainment and artistry; often one is sacrificed in order to prioritize the other. If I were rating the film on how engaged I was, or even my likeliness to see it again, I give it 2 stars. However, if we think of Aftersun like a Picasso or Monet, 5 stars for debut director Charlotte Wells.