TIFF review: Aftersun marks the radiant debut of Charlotte Wells

Scottish indie filmmaker's quiet portrait of a father and daughter on vacation leads to a devastating climax


aftersun at tiff 2022
Courtesy of TIFF

AFTERSUN (Charlotte Wells). 99 minutes. September 12, 6:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox; September 13, 3:15 pm, Scotiabank; September 17, 12:15 pm, Scotiabank. See listing. Rating: NNNN


On the surface, not much happens in Scottish director Charlotte Wells’s remarkable debut feature Aftersun. On the eve of his 30th birthday, Calum (Normal People’s Paul Mescal) takes his precocious 11-year-old daughter Sophie (talented newcomer Frankie Corio), who lives with his ex-wife, on a vacation in a resort on the Turkish seaside. They swim in the pool, visit the sea, shop for carpets they can’t afford.

Colum wants Sophie to introduce herself to some other kids, but he himself isn’t too interested in socializing with anyone; he’d rather hang out with his daughter, practice tai chi or walk around the little town. Gradually, we get glimpses of Calum’s emotional state – hinted at in his reading material, and possibly a cast on his wrist, but mostly in footage from a digital camcorder in which the bright Sophie asks questions that often go unanswered.

Eventually we understand that these events are being remembered by an older Sophie, who wants to get at the mystery of her dad. And the significance of this particular father-daughter trip comes into focus.

Writer/director Wells illustrates beautifully how less can be more; there are no showy, significant monologues or portentous images. She respects her characters’ inner lives, and she lets her actors simply play out their scenes.

Although quiet, the film builds to an emotionally devastating climax involving a Queen song that you’ll never hear in the same way again.

@glennsumi

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