Dad is divorced. It's not clear how often he sees his daughter but we suspect that his visits are infrequent. Perhaps to make up for it, Dad has taken 11-year-old Sophie on vacation to a resort in Turkey.
In his early 30s, Dad finds himself in an ambiguous position: He's both friend and parent to Sophie and it's clear that he hasn't entirely worked struck the right balance.
It's also clear that Dad is troubled. There are signs. While his daughter sleeps, Dad, who has a cast on his right arm, stands on the balcony of their hotel room swaying as he tries to light a cigarette. He's like someone trying to work out kinks, and we suspect the kinks are more than physical.
In her first movie, Scottish director Charlotte Wells pulls off a neat trick. She keeps things specific: A father and daughter play pool, doze in the sun or take boat rides.
At the same time, Wells wraps the movie's emotional life in a cloak of tantalizing vagueness.
Bifurcated and unsettling, Wells' approach allows for a challenging range of interpretive possibilities.
Mostly, the daughter's point of view dominates. We'll eventually learn that Sophie is recalling this summer interlude as an adult with a baby and a wife. She's looking at old camcorder footage Dad took on that long ago trip, which Wells, thankfully, uses sparingly.
Sophie tries to understand who her father might have been when she was at an age when she couldn't really take the measure of his life.
Stroboscopic flashes of Sophie dancing with her father in a club disrupt the flow of calm imagery. Moments of frenzy that shatter the movie's placid surface.
By now it should be clear that Wells' plotless, hazy approach places a heavy burden on the actors.
As the father, Paul Mescal creates a loving parent who seems to be harboring secrets. Mescal's Calum isn't about to allow Sophie to peer into areas he may not wish to examine himself.
It's a tricky performance. The boyish-looking Mescal conveys a lot by simply allowing himself to live in the movie's accumulation of small moments.
Frankie Corio gives a great performance as Sophie, one of those amazingly natural turns that makes it seem as if no acting is happening.
Corio's Sophie is still a kid. She can get caught up in an arcade motorcycle game with a boy who's about her age. But she's also anticipating change. She's fascinated by teenagers who invite her to share a few moments. Sophie watches with curiosity as the older kids begin to express their sexuality, an awakening that she has yet to experience.
Wells has created a portrait of two people who share moments of amazing intimacy without really knowing each another, which perhaps stands as a metaphor for many human interactions. Wells allows us to feel the warmth of afternoon suns and the dissolution of tension that happens in the moments before one falls asleep at poolside. She lulls us into relaxation while simultaneously allowing unsettling undercurrents to ripple through nearly every scene.
Of course, it's all a bit fuzzy. We're mostly looking at events as remembered by the adult Sophie. Maybe 'remembering' isn't quite the right word. She's dreaming the past with all its love, angers, and unrecoverable loss.
Now and again, Wells shows us images of hang-gliders floating through the blue Turkish sky. These images, almost trivial from a vacation standpoint, might represent a way to think about memory --untethered drifts through time.
Aftersun offers the pleasure of discovering a movie made by someone who knows how to speak the language of cinema. Wells isn't telling a story; she's sharing an experience, leaving us immersed in the emotions her film unleashes.