Top Ten Movies of 2022 — Number One

Calum (Paul Mescal) is on holiday with his tween daughter, Sophie (Frankie Corio). It’s clear that the relationship between Sophie’s parents is over in a way that is somewhere between fraught and sensitive, and this trip to Turkey has a lot riding on it. Calum and Sophie have a good relationship, but the possibility of them drifting apart lingers around every imperfect interaction like a fog. In her stunning feature debut, Aftersun, writer-director Charlotte Wells draws on her own personal history to shape the story. In a year in which Steven Spielberg brought a long career’s worth of a meticulous narrative craft to autobiographical cinema, beautifully so, Wells employs a different approach that moves with the softness of memory. With artful imagery and deeply patient craft, she conveys the ways that big and small moments can lock in the soul with equal vividness. A raw, painful argument and a drifty afternoon can endure with emotional ballast of rough equality. Both Mescal and Corio are marvelous in the roles. As more layers of personal disguise — from himself just as much as the outside world, perhaps — slip away from Calum over the course of the vacation, Mescal’s acting is especially heartfelt and poignant. He manages the share the smothered feelings of a person in crisis, adrift and troubled by the fear that he’s going further and further out to see. Across Aftersun, every choice Wells makes is exactly, almost startlingly correct. She is inventive without ever disrupting the fundamental authenticity of the work. The film is profoundly truthful even as it’s filtered through the warping waves of individual perception. This is how she saw it and felt it, and this is how she imagines her father saw it and felt. Although those two must be different, they are somehow the same. And Aftersun is utterly convincing in its assertion that this, in its intermingled sadness and joy, is simply how it was.

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