On a melancholic birthday, Sophie recalls an idyllic holiday with her father – perhaps she is now the age he was then, making this memory puzzle poignant for her and sublime and cinematic for the public.
How do you talk about something that can’t be put into words? Of course, poets make it their life’s work, and if anyone is reading this review, you’d better turn to After Sun as a way to solve the problem.
Calum (Paul Mescal) and his daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) are on vacation in Turkey to celebrate his birthday. Calum is separated from Sophie’s mother and, since he no longer lives in Scotland, where Sophie and her mother live, it is a privileged moment of conviviality. The station is a bit shabby, but they don’t need much, and that means Calum doesn’t have much in the way of finances. Yet he spends a small fortune on a Turkish rug, a photo of them taken by the resort’s photographer, a snorkeling trip that doesn’t quite go as planned. For Sophie, it’s the best vacation of her life, but for Calum, something’s off. We’re not quite sure what it is, but there are scenes in the film that cause a slight, but deep, unease, as if father and daughter are on the verge of an unpredictable bereavement.
Much of the film is devoted to the interaction between young Sophie and Calum, which is whimsical, lyrical and completely natural, creating a truly stunning and utterly believable dynamic between the two actors. But as a shrewd eleven-year-old who notices a new world of adult ways, Sophie’s innocence and questioning balance each other, and Corio does a magnificent job.
Writer/director Charlotte Wells’ instinct for emotional shadows is nothing short of astounding – we feel a lot without knowing a lot. After Sun — his feature debut — is a masterclass in restraint, because by not telling us the climax of the story, we put up with its build-up and off-camera repercussions. Adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) flash-forwards also help with that, and there’s a brilliant rave scene with Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Under pressure highlighted as an adult, Sophie literally fights with an unaged Calum in strobe light. It’s so revealing without the summary.
It’s one of the most moving films I’ve seen in a very long time, and the fact that it centers on a father-daughter relationship – a theme too often overlooked in popular culture – makes it all the more more touching. There is only one more screening of it at the Adelaide Film Festival and I urge you to see it.
Reviewed by Heather Taylor-Johnson