Directed by Edinburgh-raised Charlotte Wells, Aftersun is a dazzling film with an emotional force that hits like a tsunami, writes Alistair Harkness
Armageddon Time (15) ****
New York filmmaker Charlotte Wells delivers one of the best debuts of recent years with After Sun. Revolving around a young Scottish father on an organized trip to Turkey with his daughter in the late 1990s, this may sound like another shrewd and disturbing coming-of-age film, but it gradually deepens into a remarkable memory exploration and family and that difficult time when parents become real people in the eyes of their children.
When we’re first introduced to Calum (Paul Mescal) and Sophie (newcomer Frankie Corio), they have the kind of partners-in-crime bond of family members who enjoy spending time with each other. . Sophie is an adorable kid and Calum is a good dad. in the unique high-pressure environment of a foreign resort where forced cheerfulness is the order of the day, he is the calm center, never losing his temper as he sees other parents do. In private, however, it’s a different story: Calum seems to be pushing his way through something he instinctively wants to hide from Sophie.
All of this is subtly teased. Mescal’s performance is delicate and restrained and her scenes with incredible newcomer Frankie Corio are filmed with genuine warmth and tenderness. But Mescal also instills an underlying melancholy in them that intensifies almost imperceptibly, especially as Wells switches between Sophie’s instantaneous view of Calum as his sometimes embarrassing father and his shifting adult understanding of him as complex human being. Wells puts this change into perspective with astonishing verve, filming the resort scenes in understated style and intercutting these quietly cheerful sequences with shaky vacation footage shot by Calum and Sophie on Calum’s new digital video camera.
Gradually, however, flash cuts of Sophie as an adult – suspended in the fractal glow of a strobe-lit nightclub – alter our understanding of what we are looking at. Sophie’s once-happy memories of her father are reframed as something more raw and her childhood innocence until then to be taken as it comes peels off like sun-blistered skin. On a purely technical level, it’s a dazzling film, but there comes a point – it involves David Bowie and Queen singing Under Pressure – where the two timelines seem to fall apart and the film’s emotional force hits like a tsunami.
Aftersun would make a great double project with armageddon time, the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film from Ad Astra director James Gray about a working-class Jewish kid negotiating a tricky adolescence against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s rise to the presidency. Although America’s near-permanent shift to the right remains in the background, it informs all about its 12-year-old protagonist, Paul Graff (Michael Banks Repeta), who gradually becomes acutely aware of the rigged nature of the American Dream as that his budding friendship with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), the only black child in his class, becomes a bone of contention for his parents (Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong) as they struggle to connect with their son.
Paul has an ally in his beloved grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), but the film puts white privilege in the spotlight in a nuanced and uncomfortable way by showing how Paul lives in a world of second chances, a luxury which is not offered to Johnny. It’s an intelligent, sensitive, unvarnished film that sees the danger in nostalgia and therefore refuses to indulge in it.
Like the recent Triangle of Sadness, The menu puts the super-rich on the chopping block in an island setting for a small, rich-style payback. Billed as a sort of social horror movie version of Netflix’s high-end foodie show Chef’s Table (which inevitably gets a shoutout), the film stars Ralph Fiennes as Slowik, the obsessive chef and chef. cult of an island restaurant whose wealthy clientele shell out $1,200 per reservation and dine on conceptually pretentious molecular gastronomic delights that flatter their egos without actually satisfying their stomachs.
In this plausibly ridiculous world, a group of gleefully paid patrons, including a trio of arrogant tech bros, a failed movie star (John Leguizamo), a haughty food critic (the entertainingly horrid Janet McTeer) and a fan of the Slowik-boy leader (Nicholas Hoult), whose decision to bring in an unannounced date (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) to replace the girlfriend who recently dumped him turns out to be a major misstep.
While this setup also evokes a classic Agatha Christie-style thriller, co-writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, and director Mark Mylod, are more interested in serving up a who did what, using each course of the meal to reveal something. of fundamentally despicable about each of the guests in preparation for just desserts which will soon be served to all. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that the film lacks cooking at the end. A braver movie would have gone the route of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; this pulls a move straight out of Ratatouille.
Food also plays a major role in wonderment, Sebastián Lelio’s intriguing if not always absorbing adaptation of Room author Emma Donoghue’s novel about an apparent miraculous child’s ability to survive without food in the post-famine Ireland of the 1860s. The community still under the shock is she witnessing a candidate for sainthood or a perpetuating fraud to conceal a darker crime? Florence Pugh takes the lead as an English nurse summoned to investigate, but Lelio’s decision to frame the film with a heartbreaking opening shot of the film’s setting (and groundbreaking narration from a supporting character) ensures that it really is a survey. in fiction, people tell themselves that they have to survive terrible times.
Aftersun, Armageddon Time and The Menu hit theaters November 18; The Wonder is streaming on Netflix from November 16