I went to see After Sun with two friends. None of us liked it.
It’s billed as a coming-of-age drama. The central character is Sophie, who’s looking back on a holiday spent twenty years earlier at a Turkish beach resort with her father Calum, played by Paul Mescal, the Irish hottie you might remember from the TV version of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. 11-year-old Sophie is played by a very good young actress by the name of Frankie Corio.
The story unfolds partly through video taken by then 11-year-old Sophie. By means of the occasional flash-forward we see that the adult Sophie is playing them on a home screen. These short sequences reveal that Sophie is married to a woman with whom she has a child, but there is no sense of Sophie doing more than revisiting these memories. They appear to play no part in her present life. We don’t actually see her watching them and I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t, because she hasn’t bothered to edit them and long stretches are unwatchable due to the jerky hand-held camerawork. I had to turn my head away for long stretches.
The rest of the story – about half – is recorded by an external POV ‘eye’ that fills in those bits not captured on Sophie’s camera.
Not a lot happens. They go swimming, they sunbathe, they eat together at night in the garden restaurant with the other tourists, they sunbathe some more, they swim some more, they take a boat out, they go to the karaoke night where she sings ‘Losing My Religion’ badly and gets a bit miffed when he suggests she might need singing lessons.
Sophie hangs out with some older kids. There’s some adolescent sex-play in the swimming pool and one episode where the kids do shots. Uh-oh. Is something bad going to happen? Spoiler alert – no. Sophie stays away from the wilder behaviour but she does get chummy with a nice boy a bit older than her.
So far so good. But when is the movie going to start? Will there be any drama?
Interspersed with the interminable hang-gliders and the close-ups of their faces as Sophie and Calum sunbathe, we get Calum dancing at night on a darkened dance-floor, his face intermittently illuminated in rapid light-strobing which is difficult to watch. And is he looking anguished or is that just the normal grimacing of a bloke doing some serious grooving?
We presume Calum is separated from Sophie’s mother. He and his daughter do seem nevertheless to have a loving and wholesome relationship, but something is obviously bugging him. One night Sophie stays out late with the kids and Calum doesn’t come home at all. We see him walking into the sea at night but not coming out again. He’s there in the morning, as is she. Nothing is explained.
This is obviously one of those movies which deliberately leaves unanswered questions and makes you do the work trying to answer them. Damn. I hate that. I also hate it when audio clarity is sacrificed for naturalism. I must have missed nearly half what was said here, so murky was the dialogue.
(The wonderful Sam Neill was recently quoted as saying that because of the widespread use of neck mikes, young actors these days are encouraged to speak as they would in real life. Harrumph. All very well to aim for verité in your cinema, but what if you can’t understand what they’re mumbling?)
The critics loved After Sun. Just look at the rave reviews quoted in the poster. So did a friend who has a difficult relationship with her father.
As for me, I began to wish I’d blundered into a mindless action movie instead.