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‘Aftersun’ – a memory movie of a father-daughter holiday in Turkey

A scene from "Aftersun"

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Allow me to add my voice to the general jubilation surrounding the announcement that Chris Escobar and Kenny Blank, with a heavy assist from Jack Halpern, are planning to re-open the Tara Theater this spring.

“Aftersun” is just the sort of movie they might show. It’s a thoughtful, poignant piece; a memory film about a holiday in Turkey 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) took a couple of decades ago with her father, Calum (Oscar nominee Paul Mescal).

Movie poster of “Aftersun”

Where’s Mom? Well, she and Calum had Sophie when they were very young. Divorce followed. Mom stayed in Edinburgh, and Dad moved to London.  But the state of things between them isn’t the point here.

“Aftersun” is about fathers and daughters. Or, more specifically, a grown daughter – we glimpse adult Sophie a time or two – attempting to reconnect with her long-absent dad by exploring her scattered memories of their trip as filtered through bits and pieces captured on a camcorder and flashes of reminiscences that may or may not be true.

The film unfolds slowly, with seemingly unimportant details mixed in with more meaningful moments. Calum and Sophie, for the most part, get along well. There’s occasional friction, but she’s a smart, watchful, funny kid.

He’s a bit more unbalanced, but he clearly adores her and wants more than anything for this vacation to go well. And he has the makings of a good dad, teaching her stuff like self-defense, trying to get her hooked on Tai Chi, trusting her to watch herself with the older kids at the resort.

But Calum is also plagued by a gnawing, unspecified depression that typically manifests itself when Sophie isn’t around. And even when she is, we sense a loneliness, an isolation in him that can’t be entirely masked.

And that’s what Adult Sophie wants to understand. She’s barely in the picture, but her presence is felt enough for us to share her doubts, her questions, her sheer yearning to know this man who, we infer, has long ago disappeared from her life.

A scene from “Aftersun”

However, her recall is fragmented. She knows he had a cast on his arm, but doesn’t remember why. She remembers the hotel staff performing the Macarena but doesn’t care why. And throughout there’s the slight but insistent sexual tension of an 11-year-old on the cusp of full-blown adolescence. (Nice touch: a Polaroid photo slowly comes into focus, a metaphor for what Sophie is experiencing).

“Aftersun” is writer/director Charlotte Welles first film, and it’s an impressive debut.

Impressive, but not always accessible. It’s a very personal piece and much about it is more mystifying than revelatory.

Still, the leads are magnificent together. If nothing else, “Aftersun” will make you think about your relationship with your own father. Preserve your memories, Simon and Garfunkel told us. And we do…for better and worse.

“Aftersun” is available on Amazon Prime Video.

Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.


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