Though widely described as a coming-of-age film, Aftersun is more accurately an essay in reflection as the adult Sophie (Rowlson-Hall) looks back on a holiday at a Turkish resort in the 1990s spent with her father, Calum (Mescal). While the wider circumstances are never fully explained, it’s clear that this was a pivotal moment for both the young Sophie (Corio) and for Calum, which the older Sophie now tries to excavate and interpret through film and other souvenirs, essentially to try and understand her father’s motivations and behaviour.
There are parallels here with other films in which a child tries to figure out a parent, from arthouse classics such as El Sur, which we recently screened, to blockbusters like The Empire Strikes Back, but perhaps the most interesting connection to be made is the role of Barry Jenkins as co-producer. The American director’s Oscar-winning Moonlight (2016) famously included a father-figure and child bonding in the sea but it’s perhaps the air of woozy nostalgia that had the greater influence on Wells.
The Scottish-born Wells had already made three short films including 2015’s Tuesday, which sketched out a similar story to Aftersun, during her time studying film-making at New York University. Among other awards her debut feature also took top spot in the Sight and Sound poll for the best films of 2022. Unsurprisingly, there is keen anticipation for what this talented director might do next.
“Aftersun may be small in scale, but it leaves a distinct and lasting impression. No question, it’s the best British movie this year.” James Mottram, NME.
“Wells’s movie ripples and shimmers like a swimming pool of mystery … With remarkable confidence, she just lets her movie unspool naturally, like a haunting and deceptively simple short story. The details accumulate; the images reverberate; the unshowy gentleness of the central relationship inexorably deepens in importance.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.