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Thoughts on the film Aftersun


c.stavropoulou@filmiki.gr

In my opinion, this film does a particularly good job following the old axiom "Show don't tell." It spends almost its entire run time depicting a vacation taken 2 decades before the film's present by a girl and her father. The actual events of the vacation aren't extraordinary, but the inner lives of the characters are brought to life so vividly I can say (for me) this is one of the best depictions of depression I've seen on screen. Watching the film inspired me to think about how such deep emotions were drawn out from such an otherwise banal setting and circumstance. There are almost no lines of dialogue that could be read as obviously telling us (the audience) what is going on between the two central characters. It's all in the... actually what is it all in?


The first obvious element is the superb acting. But for now I'll leave this aside because it's not what I'm most interested in discussing. Instead I'd like to think about the structure and how contrasting events can heighten them without requiring the events themselves to be overly dramatic. Almost nothing in this entire film is dramatic by itself and yet the tension and persistent feeling of dissonance is so palpable I was kept on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire runtime. (I can also say, my friends who have seen the film feel the way I do so I'm not an island in this matter) A minor note, there is a clever use of score and atmosphere tracks that adds (very subtly) to these feelings so I don't want to overstate the effects of structure because between sound design and acting, much of the heavy lifting is already done, but... But structure is the keystone for me in this film.


The film takes us on a zigzag journey between the young father's emotions and the 11 year old daughter's. Although both characters (most of the time) are presenting a happy face to the other, the daughter's life is full of tween uncertainty and curiosity while the father is tragically stuck on his failings and inadequacies. When they're together for a scene, enjoying each other's company, the actions or emotions of the scene are given a kind of unease by the fact that the preceding scenes generally 'felt' so different. The film is a (metaphorically) quiet film so I didn't experience whiplash going back and forth from scene to scene in this fashion, but over time, the tension certainly took hold. I've never before considered this method of building tension. Generally I think of dramatic tension as something that rises or ebbs in a line. This person does action X, which leads to that person doing action Y, etc. The dramatic tension builds in the 'waiting' for result Z. Aftersun doesn't function like that. Almost none of the sequences have a direct link with each other. Much of the film could be scrambled into a different scene order and it would still be largely effective. So the way it builds on itself is somehow outside the plot. It's more to do with the juxtaposition of the emotions being represented. For me this is a fascinating device I'd like to explore. Especially in my short stories. I'll have to think of a structure that can support it and see what I can do (creatively) with the structure to form a complete feeling story. hmmmm


Anyways, those are my thoughts for now. If I come up with something to mimic this style in my own writing I'll give the film a shout out :-)

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