Charlotte Wells’ astonishing directorial feature debut premieres locally at UW Cinematheque on February 2.
Kids never really know their parents as people. Of course, as one gets older, it’s a nearly universal experience to collect bits and pieces of adulthood’s realities, family secrets, and an awareness of mortality that ultimately bring one closer to understanding a caretaker as human. But before that transformative coming-of-age symptom makes itself felt, mothers and fathers tend to be figures filtered through the pristine eyes of childhood.
Charlotte Wells’ astonishing directorial debut, Aftersun (2022), explores how to reconcile those hazy, naïve memories and beliefs of adolescence with the hardened knowledge of maturity brought on by loss and aging. The film follows both the 11- and 31-year old versions of Sophie Paterson (Frankie Corio and Celia Rowlson-Hall, respectively) as she recalls a vacation to Turkey with her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), in the early 2000s. The trip marked Calum’s 31st birthday and, fatefully, the last time Sophie ever saw him.
Wells gives her audience the same tools to grasp Calum’s humanity as the two iterations of Sophie: footage from an old camcorder, recollections of instances where Calum’s carefree façade crumbles, and a rave-like liminal space that serves as a touchpoint for Sophie to attempt to reconnect with her younger self and a father she hasn’t seen in 20 years. With this framework—and a breathtaking performance by Mescal that just earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor—Aftersun easily earns its place among the best films of last year, most appropriately featured here in UW Cinematheque’s “Best Of 2022” series.
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