This brief story by Davis crosses us because deep down, and as naive as it may seem, people are always doing that: delving into our past to recover pieces of what we have lost and that we know we will never get back together. A beautiful example is aftersunthe debut feature by the young Scottish director Charlotte Wells who last year won more than 30 awards at various festivalsincluding the French Touch at Cannes and the British Independent Awards, where it was recognized for best film, among several other categories.
If you ask me what this movie is about I won’t know what to say. Nothing really happens, no anecdote or mystery or unexpected twist. A man, Calum, and his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, vacation on the Turkish coast for a week in the late 1990s, then say goodbye at the airport and never see each other again. What appears on the screen are the memories of this trip and the atrocious reality, ordinary as it is, that adult Sophie has that those days are long gone, that they have vanished.
Using home videos —loose pieces of the puzzle that life has been trying to put together—, 30-year-old Sophie, a recent mother, tries to reconstruct her father by exploring the chiaroscuro that she can now detect in him. Having a month-old baby is no coincidence, we orphans know that motherhood shakes the memory of your dead through questions that we thought, happily? forgotten. Giving life renews mourning and amplifies it.
Although not stated explicitly, we do eventually know that Calum dies shortly after that Turkish vacation, most likely by suicide. In fact, throughout the movie he is dying all the time: he climbs on the balcony railing of his hotel room, ready to jump; he goes into the sea at dawn with his clothes on; he loses his diving mask, he chokes in tears. “Once you leave the place where you grew up,” he tells his daughter in a heartbreaking sentence, “there’s this feeling that you don’t belong there anymore.” That place he talks about is Glasgow, where he has left never to return, but it is also the moment he shares with his daughter, this life.
Their father’s depression and the possibility of his death is the third character that inhabits the space with them, although it takes Sophie years to realize it and therefore it is revealed to us little by little. And it is that although in almost all the scenes of aftersun When father and daughter appear (notably played by Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio), Sophie’s perspective is the dominant one. The man that the girl keeps in her memory is, like all memories, a subjective creation of her daughter, and as viewers we understand only what she understood at the time and become frustrated with what is beyond our reach.
If Calum is, generally speaking, a loving and fun father, why does he let Sophie roam the hotel alone at night and not open the door for her when she comes back into the room? Why is he taking her to see expensive rugs that she can’t afford? Why does he leave her singing karaoke by herself? The tension arises in part from that paradox: the more he tries to be the best father, the further the goal falls from him. Their relationship hits us because it is portrayed as a bond real, without corniness or moralism, an unsweetened bond between two people who love each other from their virtues, but also from their defects, which tend to be more abundant.
“I think it’s nice that we share the same sky,” Sophie says in a scene that stuck with me deeply. It’s funny, but despite being a sad movie, to put an adjective flat and maybe even a little silly, it’s these flashes of happiness that I remember best. “If I could go back in time and change something about the movie,” Wells said in an interview with Other Magazine“perhaps I would add more happy moments, more scenes that capture that feeling, because mourning does not exist without happiness and happiness is what lasts the longest in memory.”
“If it’s not there, it’s going to be in the camera in my head,” Sophie complains one of the few times her father asks her to turn off the camera. At 11 years old, she may not have realized it yet, but it won’t take her long to find out that the head chamber offers almost nothing: a sea of unanswered questions, networks full of holes, artifices. aftersun takes place in that limit of memory and invention, between sleep and wakefulness: a space in which we are absolutely alone, but the conversation with ghosts sounds all the time.
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Opinion | ‘Aftersun’ is a conversation with ghosts
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