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CANNES 2022 Critics’ Week

Review: Aftersun

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- CANNES 2022: Charlotte Wells demonstrates her potential as a filmmaker with a subtle, sensitive and highly controlled first feature about the holidays of a divorced father and his 11-year-old daughter

Review: Aftersun
Francesca Corio and Paul Mescal in Aftersun

Taking on a very classic British social realism subject and infusing it with a personal and original signature, while taking the time to reveal the full extent of her directorial gifts and what works in the background for both characters – with her first feature film, Aftersun, in competition in Critics' Week at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Scottish director Charlotte Wells has immediately established a singular voice full of finesse and ultra-sensitivity, and it is therefore hardly surprising that the company co-founded by Barry Jenkins is one of the film’s main producers.

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"I've just turned 11 and you'll be 31 in two days' time.” Sophie (Francesca Corio) and her father Callum (Irishman Paul Mescal, on the rise since the Normal People series) share a few days of summer holiday in a small, charmless resort in Turkey. Long separated from Sophie's mother and no longer living in Edinburgh, but in London, Callum wears the mask of a caring father, but behind his sweetness, his humour, his efforts to make the stay a standard family affair (eating ice cream, sunbathing by the pool, going scuba diving, playing with a miniDV), a halo of sadness surrounds the young man, a deep internalised fracture, not only economic (not being able to offer anything better) but above all existential, which his daughter will gradually pierce through as she herself enters the first curiosities of adolescence.

For it is indeed all about love for Sophie, about links to be (re)woven, memories to be revisited (the film is discreetly and cleverly constructed in flashback) with this awkwardly protective father, his strange tai-chi movements and his bedside books How to Meditate and Poems, Stories and Writing (by Margaret Tait, who was also an emblematic director in the history of Scottish cinema and an avid traveller, which is obviously not by chance). What’s essential is to try to understand the language of the other, who is the other, and to share the same sky if not the same space.

Perfect performers, refined and inventive direction, a sense of rhythm, lighting and framing, an emotional sensitivity, a small crossover and a deft reversal of the film's major narrative subject, which shifts from the father to his daughter, a harmonious weaving of symbols and motifs that tell different stories: beneath its "banal" appearance, Aftersun is a truly impressive first feature.

Produced by Pastel (the company of US director Barry Jenkins) and Unified Theory, Aftersun is sold internationally by Charades.

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(Translated from French)

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