Sometimes a movie sneaks up on you and takes your breath away.
“Aftersun” (R, 96 minutes, in theaters) is that type of movie.
It’s about a divorced Scottish father, Calum (Paul Mescal of “Lost Daughter”), and his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie (newcomer Frankie Corio), who go on vacation together in Turkey.
It’s pretty much a typical vacation. They stay in a resort that caters to middle-class people. It’s nice, with a swimming pool, outdoor bars, entertainment and other activities, but not necessarily swanky. (You won’t run into the pampered rich folks from “Triangle of Sadness” here.)
Calum leaves Sophie time for herself so she can have her own adventures. She swims, plays arcade games, meets other adolescents. But the father and daughter spend most of the vacation together – by choice. Sophie lives with her mother, and Calum doesn’t see his daughter often. This is a time for them to bond, and he’s trying his best to make this a special vacation, to create what will be a special memory for Sophie.
And, in fact, what occurs in “Aftersun” is a memory. We briefly see the adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) 20 years later, and it appears that the vacation sequences represent, at least in part, her bittersweet memories of this time with her father.
Why bittersweet? We don’t know. We aren’t told what has occurred in the intervening years, what has happened to Calum, what has happened in their relationship. Scottish writer-director Charlotte Wells, making her feature-length film debut, purposely withholds a lot of information, and somehow our not knowing details of the situation makes this story all the more powerful.
We keep waiting, in fact, for something dramatic – tragic, we suspect – to happen, or at least to be revealed. What we get are strong hints of heartache (someone sobbing in a private moment), but even then we’re left to guess at the exact cause for those tears.
This less-is-more approach works beautifully, in part because Mescal and young Corio perfectly project their characters’ essential sweetness and genuine, deep love for each other. As moviegoers, we feel privileged to experience this slice of life that they spend together – to the point that Sophie’s poignant memory becomes our poignant memory.
“Aftersun” might turn out to be my favorite movie of the year. If not, it’s going to come awfully close. **** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.