I’ve never seen a film where so much and so little happens at the same time.
After sun tells the story of a father and daughter lounging on a Turkish vacation. Not much happens on the surface. However, this uneventful journey shapes how the child feels about his father for the rest of his life. After sun is a story about the amorphous connection between memories and time.
Calum (Paul Mescal) is the type of laid-back parent most teenagers would kill for. He’s the father who would rather talk about taking drugs than let his kid learn from some cheesy PSA. Calum is young and kinda hip (apart from his dad moving on the dance floor). People even think of him and his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) as siblings.
Calum broke up with Sophie’s mother a while ago, so they spend less time together these days. Your trip to Turkey offers an opportunity to have some valuable one-on-one meetings. They spend their days fooling around by the pool and making small talk over meals.
Sophie and Calum have a warm and open relationship most of the time. But there are moments when Calum becomes distant and cold. Sophie doesn’t have the emotional maturity to understand what’s going on with her father, but she feels it. And this strange tension begins to besmirch Sophie’s childlike innocence.
The story takes place from the perspective of adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall). Told primarily through flashbacks and old video footage, the story is Sophie’s way of unraveling who her father really was and how she perceived him.
After sun leaves more questions than answers. It’s not made clear what Calum is going through. Writer-director Charlotte Wells masterfully calibrates the performances, editing, and music so you can intuitively understand what’s left unsaid.
Be prepared for this humble story to creep in and turn you into an emotional wreck. After sun showered me with a tsunami of emotions before I saw the wave coming.
Wells delivers one of the most extraordinary cinematic experiences of the year. You will see in a moment After sun on your favorite critics’ best-of-year lists.
This film deserves every word of praise it receives, but understand that most people will either love it or hate it. I see no middle ground. Wells created a powerful and thematically nuanced experience that lacks a traditional narrative. Not much happens in terms of content, but emotionally there couldn’t be more at stake.
So if someone had told me that After sun bored them stupid, I see.
After sun requires viewers to lean in, pay attention, and then engage in self-reflection. The beauty of the film is how it makes you wrestle with your own precious memories and question the feelings that wrap them up.
Mescal’s prominent role as Calum confirms his leading man status. His nuanced performance paints a compelling portrait of a father struggling to contain himself.
Corio matches Mescal’s charming performance punch by punch. At 11, Sophie still has moments of childish wonder. She’s starting to see life for what it is, but she’s not mad at it yet. She’s a year or two away from becoming an anxious teenager and still cherishes every moment with her dad. Watching Calum and Sophie bask in each other’s love warmed my heart.
Cameraman Gregory Oke was shooting After sun on 35mm film. The film looks like sun-kissed home theater footage running on a battered projector. The warm, rich look creates a dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere. The film looks like how I remember it from my childhood. Oke also uses a lot of tight close-ups, giving the film a raw and intimate feel.
Don’t let this cute little film fool you. At first glance, After sun seems gentle like a lullaby. But in reality, it’s an emotional assassin waiting to eviscerate you. It’s equally beautiful and devastating.
After sun is one of the most elegant films of 2022. It is a thoughtful, compassionate and visually arresting meditation on love, memory and the passage of time.
After sun shown as part of TIFF 2022, which ran September 8-18. More information about the festival can be found here.
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