Format: Streaming video from Hoopla on Fire!
I typically barely finish the Oscar movies by the end of the year. I was a little concerned when it came to Aftersun because I couldn’t find it streaming anywhere. And suddenly it appeared on the Hoopla service, sparing me the necessity of signing up for a free week on something like Max. This is a film that I don’t think I will find easy to write up for a number of reasons. It’s the sort of film that brings up emotions that are difficult to put into words. It’s a film that is wrapped in a sense of melancholy and of realization, a realization of the sort that someone you knew was going through something terrible years ago and you only now became aware of that truth.
This is also a very strange nomination in a lot of respects. Oscar does this now and then—nominating a film or performance kind of out of nowhere. In fact, at the last Oscars, there was a great deal of stink about the nomination for Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie because it was such an obscure film. Paul Mescal’s nomination feels very much the same way, although with less controversy surrounding it. It feels like an example of Oscar telling itself that it’s still hip and cool, edgy enough to nominate something like this, even though it has no chance of winning.
Aftersun is a coming-of-age film about a young girl named Sophie (Frankie Corio through most of the film and Celia Rowlson-Hall as an adult) on vacation in Turkey with her father (Paul Mescal). Much of the film is told through video Sophie has recorded on the trip, and there is a sense of her remembering this in the modern day—essentially the film is a flashback memory of Sophie’s. We learn that Sophie is 11 on the trip and her father Calum turns 31. We can intuit that Calum and Sophie’s mother (who she talks to on the phone) are no longer together and likely have not been for a very long time.
Many coming-of-age movies about girls are essentially about sex and the idea of coming to terms with the ability (and curse) of being able to have children. In this case, while there are moments of fumbling romance, this is more about Sophie coming to terms with who Calum is. This means at some level becoming aware of his obvious depression and his feelings of failing both in his life and in dealing with his daughter. There are clear signs through the film that Calum is in a great deal of mental and emotional pain, even if Sophie is only noticing this now.
Aftersun is a film that put me in mind of a few other films that create this sort of odd melancholic feeling in me. Gas Food Lodging is a film I’ve seen once more than two decades ago but have never forgotten because of just how it was both tragically sad and oddly uplifting at the same time. Angels and Insects, a movie that literally no one I know has ever even heard of, has the same sense to it—this feeling that something terrible is happening around us but that there is also something beautiful in that terrible event. There is a sense of someone’s life being wasted in futility, but something beautiful and even noble in the tragedy that results.
What I’m about to say should not be taken as a slight against Paul Mescal, whose nomination is the reason I watched Aftersun. Mescal is good, even very good in this and I don’t hate his nomination for the role. I do question, though, what Oscar might be thinking at nominating Mescal’s performance and completely ignoring the film itself. Aftersun is better than several of the nominations for Best Picture from this year, and while I am unlikely to call it the film I’d want to have winning, it’s absolutely one that should have been in the conversation.
It’s also worth saying that while Mescal’s emotional issues and journey is the heart of the film, the film itself is very much carried by Frankie Corio, whose eyes we see the story from. Children don’t typically get Oscar nominations, and it’s likely that it would feel unfair to put her up against Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh, but Corio deserves a lot of the credit for Aftersun working as it does.
I have a feeling I’m going to be thinking about this one for some time. I think it’s a lot better than I originally thought it was going to be, mostly because it’s the sort of subtle film that only opens up what it’s truly about after it sits in the back of your mind for a few days.
Why to watch Aftersun: There’s real depth here.
Why not to watch: Not all of the loose ends are fully tied off.