NEW YORK (AP) — A normal morning scene. Breakfast on the kitchen table. A newspaper rustles. A backpack is packed. The mother asks her teenage daughter if she will be home later. “It’s Tuesday, so, uh, I’m going to go to dad’s.”
The worried expression on the mother’s face and the tone of the day’s interactions at school give the impression of an unspoken loss hanging over the daughter. Every detail tugs at you until finally, after the young girl has spent the afternoon alone in the dying light of her father’s apartment, her mother arrives to take her quietly home.
So unfolds “Tuesday”, the debut short from 35-year-old Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells, and one that bears many of the hallmarks found in her heartbreaking feature debut, “Aftersun”. It too is centered on a young girl and her father. He too beams with the glow of memory while running with a backwash of grief.
“I did the first one never thinking about who would see it and why. It was an exercise for me. A few people responded to it very strongly, but it was little. Like, 10% would be generous,” Wells says. “But when they did, it was a very meaningful response. It seemed very sincere. It was always enough for me.”
Many others were moved by “Aftersun”. Devastated, in fact, that’s more like it. Since premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May, “Aftersun” has garnered rare buzz. These were the beginnings of a rare maturity of a filmmaker with masterful control and deep wells of empathy. It was the obvious launch of a major new voice.
“The rumors,” The New Yorker recently wrote, “are true.”
It was Wells’ shorts that first caught her attention with Barry Jenkins and Adele Romanski. While making “If Beale Street Could Talk,” they had coffee with Wells to talk about a possible feature film. Two years later, Wells returned with a script. Romanski and Jenkins have signed on to produce through Pastel, their production company set up to empower young directors in the same way Plan B helped them create “Moonlight.”
“Throughout this process, Charlotte has always had faith in the ethereal goo stuff that you can’t arrive at mathematically, that you can’t arrive at through a book about screenplay conventions,” Jenkins says. “I kind of describe it as a magic trick. Watching the movie, you get to that last two minutes, and you realize, “Holy shit, I got to this place and it’s like magic.”
“Aftersun,” which A24 hits select theaters on Friday, stars newcomer Frankie Corio as 11-year-old Sophie, who travels with her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), on a summer vacation in Turkey. Softly posed from the perspective of an older Sophie whom we only see dimly, the film is a piece of memory. In many ways, it feels like a coming-of-age movie. Sophie, oscillating between childhood and early adulthood, attracts the attention of older children. But we gradually understand that it is not Sophie who is moving away from her dad. It’s Calum, struggling with his own demons, who may be adrift.
Coming from his Brooklyn apartment and shortly before diving into the legendary Criterion Collection closet, Wells, who goes by the name “Charlie,” met a reporter for a cafe near Union Square in New York City to reflect on a mind-blowing year. and to some of the heartaches behind “Après-soleil.” Wells’ father died when she was 16.
“He lived in London for the most part when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time with him. He often came back,” Wells says, brightened by his memory. “He was really loving and ambitious and super creative and probably had ambitions for me to be a filmmaker, which only recently occurred to me. I hate to think I’ve done an idea of what a parent wanted for me. My goal was to do the opposite.”
Wells has sometimes spoken obliquely of the personal roots of “Aftersun”, describing it as “emotionally autobiographical”. But many details of the film have deep ties to his life. Sophie sometimes plays with a Mini-DV camera. Wells’ father gave her the same type of camera when she was a teenager.
“I was always concerned about keeping a visual record of things,” says Wells, describing how she photographed friends and parties, including a celebration on the last day of school before reluctantly changing schools. . “I recorded everyone and everything. It really froze that moment in time in a way that I felt like I could still go back to.
While writing “Aftersun”, she replayed old Mini-DV tapes her father had filmed for her, sometimes drawing dialogue from the footage. The tapes sparked a reflection on how memory and film intertwine.
“There’s an hour-long tape that I got well into my teens,” Wells says. “It’s a game of chess between us and his friend and everyone’s head is cut off. It’s just torsos. It’s like the cruelest joke that only I can find funny. It’s such a strange record to have and certainly had an impact on the film.
Her dad, Wells says, exposed her to a lot of art, music and movies — sometimes “much cooler and more interesting things than I was ready for,” Wells said. “It laid the foundation that when I was ready on my own terms, I could find it.”
“My mom used to joke that her head was above the clouds and her feet were more firmly planted on the ground,” Wells adds. “In many ways, I’m a combination of them that I enjoy. My feet are on the ground and my head is above the clouds. She laughs. “I’m just very tall.”
Wells’ film education continued at New York University where she made several short films. Even in his student films, one can see an uncommon balance between subtlety and revelation. In Wells’ films, there is often a surface reality and a hidden, more painful reality. In “Laps,” which is inspired by a similar experience Wells had on the subway on her way to NYU, a young woman is sexually assaulted on a crowded train where no one notices — or, at least, no one notices. seems to notice.
“I think ‘Laps’ is the least oblique,” she says of the 2017 Sundance and SXSW award-winning short. happens .”
For Romanski, “Aftersun” may be a step up in feature films, but there’s nothing “first movie” about it.
“There’s a deep belief that if someone like Charlotte does what he’s already demonstrated in 10 minutes what he’s capable of in 90 minutes – and if we do our job as producers – then you can get to a place like ‘Aftersun,’” says Romanski.
Doing so, however, meant working on every detail, carefully sculpting the film’s precise yet organic flow. “I wrote so many openings and so many endings,” Wells sighs. Jenkins, himself a maker of richly vivid lyrical films that compress the present and the past, was intimately involved in the process. He estimates that through editing he has seen the film 12 to 15 times.
“There were times when I was watching this fucking movie four times a week,” Jenkins explains. “You should watch how those little moves make those massive ripples.”
“Aftersun” made its own waves playing on the festival circuit around the world, including the New York Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Wells, who started making movies as “an exercise in myself,” was surprised at how well “Aftersun” resonated with others.
“Adele likes to remind me, ‘See, you would have been happy if only one person got your movie,'” Wells says with a smile. “But it was good, I admit, that more than one person reacted to this movie, and the ratio was a bit flipped. I don’t know why.
“But I’m glad I never thought about what would happen when the credits roll, until it rolls.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP