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“Aftersun: A Hauntingly Honest Portrait of Love & Grief”

By: Jenna Hausmann

Having a deep love for Paul Mescal, and a complicated relationship with my own father, I have been watching the film Aftersun collect dust on my movie watchlist for some time now. In 2022, I planned to see the film as soon as it hit the theaters, but unfortunately, the theaters near me lacked showings, and I couldn’t bear to pay twenty dollars online to rent it. As time passed, the price went down, so I recently spent only five dollars to watch Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio adorably and authentically act as father and daughter. It was worth every penny.

Aftersun follows the story of a father-daughter duo named Calum and Sophie on a holiday trip together and incorporates adult Sophie having flashbacks as she watches back the footage captured of their vacation. Sweet interactions that happen on the trip, such as lounging together by the pool, are accompanied by tense moments that arise from Calum’s drinking and financial struggles. The dichotomy of their interactions creates an honest depiction of loving someone while being affected by their faults. Sophie and Calum’s relationship is playful, open, and layered. It was refreshing to see this type of sincere relationship that’s a mix of admiration and anguish.

A review of this film can only be complete with a mention of its incredible and unique cinematography. The combination of high-contrast coloring, home footage, professional shots, and strobe light effects cultivate an intense and intimate atmosphere. The distinctive filming techniques utilized, such as the film’s use of reflections, add to its artistry. Multiple scenes involve the viewer watching through reflective surfaces, rather than on the actors themselves. There is a quiet beauty to this technique that reveals critical details. For instance, in the scene where the viewer is watching Sophie and Calum’s conversation through the TV’s reflection, books are noticeable beside the TV. The books are on meditation, tai chi, and poetry, things relevant to Calum. These tiny details amplify the charm of this storytelling and cleverly make the viewer more distant from the scene, mirroring Sophie’s position while watching back the footage.

The subtle acts of affection between the two make this movie even more enjoyable. It’s impossible not to smile at Sophie and Calum cracking jokes and playfully swimming around together. They continuously perform loving acts such as holding hands, putting sunblock on one another, and dancing. These characters share a deep love and admiration for one another, which is not hard to see through their affectionate behaviors and candid conversations. Although Calum’s mood quickly changes throughout their vacation, he frequently asks Sophie if she’s having fun, and seeing a father so invested in his daughter’s feelings is heartwarming and lovely to see. There are subtle hints of Calum’s alcoholism throughout the film, and a viewer can’t help but feel sympathy for both Calum and Sophie, as they are both affected by it.

The vulnerable and realistic dialogue is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Their conversations seamlessly flow, blending light topics into heavier ones. One minute they are discussing Cleopatra and the next Calum is apologizing for passing out in Sophie’s bed. They move on to rub mud on each other, and all is well between them again. This common back-and-forth between the two feels genuine. Children often quickly forgive their parents for their faults and can only see the bigger truth upon looking back. The film’s heart-wrenching strobing sequence of Calum and Sophie dancing in the past and the present Sophie hugging and releasing her father, perfectly encapsulates what it feels like to lose someone you love: disorienting and agonizing. Only love and grief are left at the end.

Aftersun is not a typical plot-driven and action-packed film– it’s much better than that. The film is driven by a bittersweet story of a struggling father, a daughter coming of age, and a matured daughter trying to pick up the pieces of a lost relationship. This movie was heartbreakingly beautiful from start to finish. If you haven’t experienced Aftersun yet, I urge you to hit the stream button and grab some tissues as soon as possible. Fair warning: don’t expect to listen to “Under Pressure” the same way ever again.


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