Aftersun (2022): An Afterthought

I was complaining that we don’t get flashy premieres for interesting movies a while back. Well, when I went to see Aftersun at the so called preview screening a couple of days before its official cinema release here in Romania, the only people there were me and my mom. On a Wednesday at 19.00.

There was none of the glitz or excitement of the Berlin premiere that Yoanna posted about back in November. Not that it’s fair to compare, when stars come, there’s a guaranteed public and I’m pretty sure that the preview that took place later on Wednesday night at our local Cinema Victoria also attracted considerably more viewers.

To be honest, though, I think this is a movie that works well in solitude and I really didn’t mind having a cinema screen to myself. Even before going in to see Aftersun, I had created some associations with The Tale, which is also an exploration of childhood memories and associations, with a different kind of undertone. It’s a fascinating theme and it gets an especially nuanced treatment in Charlotte Wells’s movie. Aftersun drips with nostalgia within the warm haze of gentle summer days, but leaves a door ajar at the other side of which an undefined existential menace lingers. The slow burn might be a challenge for some, but if you allow yourself to make the journey, the finale has good odds of tearing you apart. Beyond that, the movie is all the things that Yoanna mentioned in her review, a throwback to the days of Macarena and Dr. Jones, of flimsy arcades and dodgy lodgings in foreign lands.

I was probably eight or so when I went to Turkey for the first time with my sisters, my mother and two family friends. It was a long drive by bus from Western Romania, through Bulgaria, slithering down the Turkish coast until we reached Kusadasi. It seemed like a similar experience, just that we listened to Coco Jumbo, paragliding wasn’t popular and we weren’t old enough to search for first kisses. And you know what else? I remember next to nothing about it, bar two details – that the bus we came on was switched overnight with one that had “Murat” printed on the side, which in Romanian translates to pickled, and I found that infinitely amusing; and that I had no idea what the actual lyrics to Coco Jumbo were, but sang along anyway, every time it played. Which was a lot of times.

My mother was telling me about how terrible the bus ride was, which was more like a minivan, how often we stopped for pee breaks, how endless the journey there seemed, how hard it was for her and the fellow adults who had come along to handle five prepubescent children. She said we stopped on the way in Istanbul and saw the Blue Mosque, we visited Troy and climbed inside the horse, we bathed in the Pamukkale. It was a week of juvenile bliss and parental anxiety. And my mother was just about as old as I am now.

She didn’t dislike Aftersun, but she also didn’t love it. Too much build up, not enough pay off. For me the balance was right. With a view of how little we knowingly keep with us from the experience of growing up, how sparse, random and occasionally unreliable our more tangible memories are, Aftersun felt like opening Pandora’s box. And while I pride myself as a son who offers a bit of emotional availability towards his parents, crying in front of my mother wasn’t in the cards that night. Not even under pressure. 9