Aftersun: introspection is the aloe vera after a week in the sun

In Aftersun, Paul Mescal plays another blinder as the emotionally stunted man trying to express the inexpressible. Thirty one year old Calum takes his eleven year old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) on a holiday that she’ll remember forever. She’ll never know the turmoil her father was going through at the time, but as the viewer a transition of sorts is revealed to us gradually, while Sophie is none the wiser.

Wrestling with a guilt so overpowering from not being able to provide adequately for his daughter and estranged wife, we see him despondently balancing this world and the next. Despite his relative youth, it’s as if becoming a father so young accelerated the trappings of old age. The films’ advert has a telling, final say where Sophie proclaims in childish innocence hoping to elongate her holiday indefinitely “I wish we could stay here for longer.” Mescal agrees wholeheartedly with a solemn, “me too,” referring of course to his presence in her life. On one occasion someone mistakes the pair for brother and sister, but they could not be further apart in terms of mental timelines, illustrating this raw dichotomy between father and daughter.

As it happens, a transition is also nigh for his young daughter who is just on the cusp of something, not yet a teen where the world of sexual desire is a want or a need, but a world that she is still on the periphery of, wrestling with, and curious about. She toys with ideas and lingers on glances around the pool, desperately clinging on to everything the older kids say and do. Despite the unknown of this new world the optimism of youth overpowers her confusion and trepidation in a way her fathers’ cannot.

For a millennial audience who regularly tend to forget where we came from, it’s nostalgic to watch a late nineties, European holiday take place with no phones, just our curious eyes listening to Brits talk too loud by the pool. We were made in the Kidz Clubz on the outskirts of secondary airports in Southern Europe, where we watched with complete awe the tanned, seemingly much older and cooler Italian and Spanish kids floating around thinking they must have known something we didn’t.

Frankie Corio is a dote of a performer, not whiny or stage schooled, but thoughtful and inquisitive. Her curious disposition means we see interactions largely from her pre-adolescent perspective, everything is new, slightly frightening and more pronounced – seeing things you’d skip by as an adult. That’s how we get such a good performance out of Paul Mescal, because Frankie picks up on his nuances, inspecting her father to the nth degree, because she wants to know what makes him tick. We aren’t to know exactly how, but a recurring dream-like sequence indicates that she’ll spend the rest of her life trying to figure that out.

The film clips along at a lovely pace and you sense a foreboding but you can’t tell from what angle. It reflects the terrible irony of life that it’s what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans and it’s only in recollections do you glean any sort of meaning. Aftersun wraps up introspection on life like aloe vera, the futile bandage you’re trying to slap on and fix the blistering burn, after what was, in the moment, a wonderful day in the sun.

PS. If you were a moderate fan of Under Pressure before this, make sure you give it a last listen in complete innocence, as you’ll never listen to it the same way again.

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