Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Portrait of the Artist, Part III: Aftersun and Armageddon Time

Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in Aftersun.

Aftersun was inspired by the Scottish writer-director Charlotte Wells’s memories of her father. It’s a first feature by someone who has made only shorts before, and it has a distinctive voice and a hazy, meandering, experimental style; the angles are unusual and the images often seem off-kilter. The main character, Sophie (played by Frankie Corio), is an eleven-year-old girl who lives in Glasgow with her mother; her parents have split, and her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), has been trying to restart his life in England, so they seldom get to see each other. Just before Sophie goes back to school for fall term, her dad takes her on a trip to Turkey.  They stay, with other English-speaking tourists, at a vacation hotel called Ocean Park, where she hangs about the pool or the game room or the arcade when she and Calum aren’t on touring the shops or out on day trips. The movie isn’t linear, and as Calum lets Sophie use his video camera, especially when they loll around their hotel room, it’s meant to evoke the feel of home movies, like Jim Sheridan’s magnificent, magic-realist In America, which has an Irish video-camera buff heroine not much older than Sophie. But whereas Sheridan’s picture has a strong narrative, Aftersun is casual, anecdotal. Not much happens. Sophie plays pool with some British teenagers and observes them drinking and making moves on each other; a boy her own age spends time with her and they indulge in a little mild petting. And she and her dad work hard to make their time together count because it’s so short.  He wants her to have a good time; she wants to find out things about him that she doesn’t know, such as what he was like when he was eleven and what sort of future he envisioned for himself.