“Aftersun” shows that familial love can drive your heart

February has been a magical time for TV, cinema and music. “The Last of Us” brought me to tears with its “Long, Long Time” episode, the third of the series. TikTok’s celebrated hero Leith Ross released the perfect potential love song this week. In a season of chocolates, candy and entirely too many public displays of affection, I want to fall in love all over again, and Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio exhibit one of the most distinct forms of love on screen — familial love. 

“Aftersun,” written and directed by Charlotte Wells, follows 11-year-old Sophie (played by Frankie Corio) and her father, 31-year-old Calum (played by Paul Mescal) on a memorable vacation in Turkey during the '90s. The pair have an unconventional connection on the screen illustrated by their unique dialogue. Mescal is immensely captivating in the film through his portrayal of a man four years older struggling to come to terms with his depression. 

In a cinematic context, glimpses of Calum almost mirror a child’s memory. Shots of Sophie’s childhood during the vacation are dimmed by shots of Calum, struggling with alcoholism and loneliness. 

Toward the beginning of the film, Sophie sleeps soundly in a hotel bed while Calum goes outside to smoke a cigarette. While Sophie sleeps, her father smokes and slowly moves his arms as if in a trance. It’s later revealed that Calum has developed somewhat of an obsession with the act of tai chi.

Throughout the film, we see Calum practicing tai chi with Sophie. Sophie understands the act as her father adding color to her adolescent world, but as an audience, we never truly understand what it is that Calum’s going through or struggling with. 

Sophie and Calum’s age difference is a powerful force in the film, and there are times when Sophie’s unassuming, childlike wonder seems to stir Calum.

While the audience gets no exact answers about Sophie and Calum’s lives, it’s abundantly clear through blistering lines of dialogue that Sophie’s mother is no longer in the picture, and later, we discover that as an adult, Sophie doesn’t hold a relationship with Calum.

The pacing of the film feels both tender and apprehensive. We follow Sophie and her father during their vacation, and while the symptoms of his mental state cause Calum’s world to crumble, Sophie remembers him as an erratic, loving presence.

Both Corio and Mescal have received recent praise for Aftersun’s 2022 Cannes Film Festival debut. The film has been awarded accolades like Best Directorial Debut by the National Board of Review, Best Casting and Outstanding British Film of the Year at the BAFTAs and French Touch Price of the Jury at Cannes.

Mescal is nominated for an Oscar for his profound performance as a young father, and the media is head over heels. He seems to be the main topic of conversation in film circles, which is unsurprising. He’s only 27 and Oscar-nominated for his first leading role in a feature film.

After watching Mescal’s performance in the 2020 drama “Normal People,'' I felt emotionally connected to his onscreen presence. Mescal is undeniably honest and humble in his acting practice and it oozes through the screen. When I heard about the general plot of “Aftersun,” I was interested. With every preview and snippet of the movie that dropped I was hooked. “Aftersun” is an indie arthouse film, twinged with twists of heartache and drama.

With popular fictional fathers like Red Forman from “That 70’s Show,” Peter Griffin from "Family Guy" and Al Bundy from “Married with Children” floating around in the mainstream psyche, a positive father figure is refreshing. The notion that a young father, and more notably, a young father struggling, could be portrayed in a positive light is almost revolutionary. 

“Aftersun” tells the brilliant tale of a father-daughter relationship. The characters are alive and Wells has conjured a world where compassion and sympathy for another is the most important lesson we can learn. 

Rating: 10/10

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