Aftersun’s creative team on massive cakes, karaoke and inner peace

Image for this story

Filmmaker Charlotte Wells and stars Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio on the tender bonds and fast friendships at the heart of Aftersun. Interviews and photographs by Ella Kemp.

Unraveling, understanding and ultimately making peace with your memories is one of the hardest things a human mind has to learn how to do. It also feels kind of impossible to talk about. How do you put into words the feelings of warmth, of love, of grief, of shattering silence? Grief, which is love after all, is something that washes over you, with random flashes of life resurrecting what you once lost. Some blurry holiday footage; echoes of a phone call where you hung up too soon.
It is, really, what most good filmmaking tries to do—animating something that didn’t quite make sense when it actually happened. It’s what Aftersun, the subtly spellbinding debut feature from Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells, succeeds at with such clarity and delicate empathy that it’s a bit breathtaking. A piece of fiction, it’s drawn from her family story, and it becomes ours, too.

Wells was a little wary about mishandling her memories. Framing a low-key holiday at an all-inclusive resort in Turkey (a staple for ‘90s British kids) between a ten-year-old girl, Sophie (Francesca “Frankie” Corio), and her father Calum (Paul Mescal), Aftersun captures the formative moments where love—and a cheap, sunny two-week getaway—tries to plaster over wounds that have been deepening for more than a decade. It’s in the moments where you look at one another through sleepy eyes, your sun loungers maybe 30 centimeters apart, as much as those where you’re trying to make sense of shaky video footage you took, zooming all the way in on your dad’s nearby dive into the most shallow swimming pool you’ve ever seen.

“I was very aware of accidentally overwriting memories, or, in making this film, that I’d be creating an alternate version that would somehow supersede the reality of what happened,” Wells tells Ella Kemp over Zoom from New York, in the thick of a busier press season than she ever expected for a film she had no idea would touch so many people. “The experience I had with my short films was that they tended to be understood and appreciated in their emotional intent by a few people,” she says. “And that was always good enough for me. I was never looking to catch the majority of an audience, and that was my expectation of making this film too. But somehow, we turned that ratio a little bit.”

Read the full story on Journal.