At The Movies: A father-daughter holiday becomes a bittersweet lifelong memory in Aftersun

Sophie (Frankie Corio) and Calum (Paul Mescal) play a daughter and father on holiday, creating memories she will return to for the rest of her life. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Aftersun (M18)

102 minutes, opens on Thursday

4 stars

The story: At a Turkish resort favoured by British tourists on a budget, 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) and her father Calum (Paul Mescal) spend their days sunning themselves and swimming. They have a glorious time, but she senses a heaviness in his heart, a weight that she will think back on for the rest of her life.

How well do we know our parents? It is a simple question, complicated by the boundaries that parents draw up around themselves, lines that children know better than to cross.

Scottish writer-director Charlotte Wells takes on this question in this evocative account of a father-daughter holiday in Turkey.

Most of the story is shown from a child’s point of view. Sophie’s encounter with the cool, older kids, for example, is filtered through her pre-teen desires and anxieties.

But at the edges of her perception, Wells inserts information that the older Sophie will observe and understand. Did those things actually happen, or are they the work of a mind trying to tell itself a story that makes sense?

What is clear is that Sophie – then, at the holiday resort, and the older Sophie today – loves her father. Mescal’s Calum is a sweet, sensitive young dad prone to benign neglect, but never not fun to be around.

The Irish actor gives Calum’s melancholy a range of colours – this is a father trying to give his child a great holiday, which means keeping his struggles to himself. When the mask slips, it does so with heartbreaking intensity.

Scottish performer Corio has won acclaim for her portrayal of the thoughtful Sophie, and rightly so. Making her acting debut, she disappears into the role of a child sensing that her father is not like the other fathers. There is not a second in her performance that feels like an actor has delivered a line.

Most of the story is shown from a child’s point of view. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Wells’ debut feature has won a range of awards at the Cannes Film Festival and a dozen critics’ choice competitions around the world. It is deserved. This study of a parent-child relationship is scarily intimate, but also universally relatable.

Hot take: Aftersun is a sharply drawn memoir that captures moments of happiness shared by a father and daughter, a time that will be replayed in the mind for years to come.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.