Welcome to a new little corner on our ever-growing site, the Negative Space, where we aim to fill the void with observations, analysis and general conversations about cinema - from film to digital, Korean to Irish, indie to blockbuster. Now, look, there are a myriad of film blogs out there. But by putting into words our passion for new projects and analysing great works, we hope to inspire discourse, highlight smaller films and ultimately showcase our appreciation for those who fight to pursue their vision.
Recognising important filmmaking in an age where the art form is struggling against the backdrop of streaming services and the endless deluge of “content” they produce is important. In many ways, film is the defining artform of our times - and it is entering a new era. As I write this, actors and writers in the US are on strike - the last time these two organisations striked simultaneously was in 1960. Both writers and actors are fighting for contracts that prevent AI from replacing them at their jobs, whether it’s writing scripts or appearing as background actors. They are also demanding fairer wages and lambastic the absurd paychecks awarded to those on top. Fight on.
Hollywood executives and media conglomerates, in many ways, determine what we consume, and they have demonstrated an increasing, all-consuming greed and, unsurprisingly, a debilitating lack of imagination. Perhaps now, as we once saw in the 70s and 90s, we will see a rejection of the establishment and new indie projects will move to centre stage to dictate the moment. Okay, it probably won’t be that radical… But, look, the future is uncertain, and the constant fight for our attention with “entertainment” is diluting the quality of works we’re showcased on a regular basis.
But in times like these, when beautiful, challenging works of art are made, they are granted space to breathe. Therefore, we want this space to be somewhere where we can collectively gawk-at and appreciate the remarkable films being created in these turbulent times. From sweeping epics, to quiet dramas, cinema is still pulsing away, ever reflecting back our humanity, and there are some remarkable new voices contributing to its history. Our first piece aims to highlight one of these new voices with a reflection on her first feature film from 2022, Charlotte Wells’ ‘Aftersun’.
There’s a moment late in ‘Aftersun’ in which Calum, played by Paul Mescal, places a developing polaroid face-up on the table beside him. Calum continues a conversation with his daughter Sophie, played by Frankie Corio, about the holiday they’ve enjoyed together. Suddenly our focus shifts to the developing photograph. The shot holds and holds as the polaroid develops, the two figures slowly forming in the foggy blue haze. Then, off-camera, Sophie asks her father, “Can’t we just stay here?”
‘Aftersun’ is a film about memory. The memory of a holiday, the memory of a childhood, the memory of a father. The filmmaking decisions by Wells and her cinematographer, Gregory Oke, reflect that motif even in the very first choice they made together: to shoot ‘Aftersun’ on film. The two fought hard in the pre-production process to ensure that it was shot on 35mm - much to the studio’s dismay. And it’s in this small moment where a polaroid develops that we as the audience are confronted with perhaps the best reason for why they were so right to do so - the tangible sense of memory that only film can bring.
Film is 24 individual pictures per second, or, as Jean-Luc Godard put it, 'Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.' And in this small moment in ‘Aftersun’ we see both of these truths manifest as a photograph comes to life on film. And though she is only referencing the hotel and the holiday when she asks her father if they can stay, Sophie’s request juxtaposed with the photograph is a beautiful metaphor for memory, the passage of time, and the lasting impact of film.
‘Aftersun’ is a dreamy rendition of a holiday. In it, 11-year-old Sophie from Edinburgh takes a summer vacation with her loving 30-year-old father Calum to Turkey - Calum moved to London after having amicably separated from Sophie’s mother. The trip is an opportunity for the two to spend some much-desired time together. Sophie records the holiday on a MiniDV camera, the footage of which is interspersed throughout the film to great effect. She’s also quite good at capturing selfies with it.
Though I’ve outlined the basic plot here, the film isn’t driven by it. ‘Aftersun’ is a sequence of vignettes and offers its audience a gradual understanding of the complex relationship between father and daughter. However, we also come to understand that older Sophie, now 31 (the age her father was while on that holiday) is revisiting the tapes of her trip after 20 years. She is searching them for a deeper understanding of the man she remembers. For while on the outside Calum is a remarkably good and loving father, he is dealing with debilitating depression and over the course of their trip that becomes harder for him to conceal.
But of course, Sophie is 11. And the film does a beautiful job of rendering her point of view for the audience (though it isn’t the only perspective the film employs). Her father is often shown from lower angles, through mirrors, his face obscured or his body in silhouette. He is in many ways an enigma to Sophie, though behaviour patterns may be clear to the audience. Only later in life can she attempt to comprehend the truth about what her father was fighting, even if it is through low-quality camcorder footage.
As Sophie watches their holiday play back to her, we get the sense that she analyses everything. She searches her father’s face for moments of pain, perhaps a smile faked, a grimace, a change in tone; anything that could reveal more of his hidden nature. In Charlotte Wells’ hands, all of this is possible. Her characters feel so lived-in and believable, and Sophie’s perspective so accurate, that we as the audience are in a very similar position to herself. ‘Aftersun’ isn’t interested in providing answers for its audience. We are left to come up with our own interpretations of what is unfolding but it requires patience and engagement. But with two beautiful performances to indulge in, we are gifted a treasure trove of minute expressions to pour over and one can’t help but be won over by their relationship.
Eventually, we become active participants in Sophie’s investigation. We start to analyse Calum’s body language, searching for our own answers during exchanges or the brief moments we see him alone. The film further confounds with arresting sequences of Calum dancing in a crowded club, strobe lights pulsing and a woman lost in the crowd desperately searching for him - time and place unknown. All of these disparate timelines and sequences are juxtaposed against one another, creating a truly unique vision of a film. One which seeks to instil in its audience the fallible nature of memory. We can misremember, create new falsehoods, and wade through time in our mind, images flickering by like grainy footage on a cheap camcorder.
Greetings on top, Zoo Kid On The Blok