Aftersun ★★★★

Precious. An absolute heart-wreck by its final beats in its quiet conclusions, but purposefully silent in the way it meditates on the internal nature of mental health and loneliness, through Calum’s attempt to shelter his daughter from his internal woes; the joyous veneer of their holiday together starts to wane, but Calum never recedes in his steadfast attempt to protect Sophie from his reticent loneliness and sorrows, even if her eagerly precocious nature exposes her to more than he would like her to know.

It’s a stellar acting debut for Francesca Corio, whose performance as Sophie feels at once innocent and yet wise beyond her years in her awareness and curiosity. I could honestly stare into Paul Mescal’s eyes for hours — it’s mesmerisingly peerless how his gaze can capture perseverance and fragility simultaneously as he leers both into the void and internally into his own dormant, deep-rooted woes. It’s a beautifully tragic embodiment of his character’s conflicts, that gradually besmirches the film’s atmosphere with a latent, dismal — yet reserved — sense of melancholy.

For a feature directorial debut, this is shimmering with moments of absolute virtuosity, exercising restraint and empathy on highly intelligent levels. Charlotte Wells captures fatherhood with an intimate sincerity, expressing this bond between a father struggling with loneliness, finances, and his mental health, and a child who is growing up and becoming ever-curious of the world and people around her with glowing interest, in cherished strides through a recollection of memories (imagined and true) and external formats, such as holiday videos captured on a camcorder. It’s so easy to get lost in all its silence, but deep in it is an empathy pictures nowadays seem to often forgo, and in that empathetic inclination and sensibility is the beauty of the benign, honest, vulnerable relationship between Calum and his daughter, Sophie, and in that sweet bond is hidden a great many truths about growing up, how we can tend to view our parents in a glorified light as adolescents, the reality of internalised mental health woes, and the many ways in which we can love somebody openly and wholly whilst obscuring certain, more distressing truths to shelter them. Consonantly sensitive in all the right ways — I hope to come back to this one, as poignant as that may be, because I’ll be thinking about certain moments with definite sadness.

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