Sunday, December 25, 2022

Aftersun: The Year's Worst Film

Aftersun is the film of the year... that is critically praised, slow, realism-focused to the point of boring, melancholic, depressing, and a tedious mess, shot on lifeless, blue-hue digital cameras. It's a slice of life. So is waiting in line at Dairy Queen. There needs to be some story and interesting plot or visual elements interspersed. Other bad films of this style include Blue Valentine or Chop Shop, though they had a few moments. A decent example of this style done well would be The Florida Project. This is the exact kind of movie more mainstream cinema-goers cite as they avoid great understated films. We're talking long boring shots and Tarkovsky this person is not.

The astonishing aspect of this film is you come to understand how little can happen in 15 minutes. The tragedy this director tries to portray comes across with equal lack of distinction. What could've made it better was any hint of the purpose the story was meant to take, and any hint of the form used to express it. It's not hard in a nearly two-hour running time to include a minute and 30 seconds about a character's motivation or future ambition. Seeing someone cry alone in a room does nothing for me compared to understanding why. Instead, you have a depressed, deadbeat dad type who's trying to do the right thing. That's many dads, why care. Then you have the 11-year-old daughter with the implausible emotional maturity and quips of a 17-year-old. That can be overlooked, but there's no background into the divorce, no discernible problem in her other than annoyance, and near zero indication of what these events mean for her future. I wasn't rooting for her either, she's a wooden chess piece moved around a sterile screenplay. Toward the tail-end of the film there's a moment the two are alone on a boat and there's finally a word of empathy and character development between them. Thanks, the first proof this movie wasn't written and recorded by AI comes before the climax. The conceit here seems to be that stillness and quiet is enough to sell something emotionally evocative and incur a response. It's not, not without interplay with a little movement, a little heightened happiness to contrast the grief, a little unquiet to liven up to at least baseline human emotion, so you actually feel down when that time comes. Instead, it's a two-hour Lexapro commercial. If the entire film had a Paxil logo in the lower right hand corner this melodrama may be a perfect satirical comedy. Instead, you may be able to use this film's dull bleakness to break prisoners and secure intelligence without breaking international law.

Aftersun is #1 of the year for BFI, so you know it's not a good film. BFI disgraced themselves this year after previously curating excellent top 100 all-time movie lists once a decade, separated lists comprising both the choices of critics and directors. Paul Schrader took them to task for a new-found ideological slant to their ratings on social media. It's a bad sign because Paul is essentially a film-maker indiscernible from a feminist, starting with Taxi Driver--a film that dissected self-defeating, pathological male ego and its related drives and desires. He's also known for correctly stating Taylor Swift's music and concerts affirm life itself. On BFI, he had the following to say:

's re-tuned criteria suggests a change in the representation of woman-made films on the list, leading to a frankly confused and forced re-ordering of films. Yes, men are over-represented. There is a ratio of about 25-to-1 male directors versus female, they should be. It's more sexist to assume it's the failure of women or failure to recognize their artistic achievements, rather than recognize it could be they have different or better priorities. Yes, it's tragic when a film is critically overlooked as with Kelly Reichardt's brilliant First Cow. It's also unfortunate and unfair when this happens the other way. I suspect an over-correction could explain the attention given to this work by Charlotte Wells.

I thought Nope was the year's worst film, which is the worst thing I saw this year before Playtime by Tati. I would watch Playtime twice more before rewatching Aftersun. I thought it would be the hidden gem of the year with so many top spots. All those critics deserve to be hunted and pelted with Kinder Surprises, but they would love it like the groveling masochists they are. This film isn't #1, it's a 1. As an olive branch of optimism, the acting and camera work are there. The main problem with this may be a matter of tuning tone and pace, adjustments there could result in powerful future films. (I forgot to add this so I will shoehorn it in like my BFI-bashing: large plot points in 3-second splices under strobe-lights is not an effective narrative tool.) Until then when it comes to Aftersun, ask yourself if you want to spend two weeks at a resort with a depressed dad and his boring daughter in damn near real-time.


  1. Had to Google nearly all of these films but Playtime actually sounds right up my ally. Why so bad?

    1. It's for stiff, stuffy art people who prefer "humorists" to comedians. It's like if The Three Stooges was made by someone who was extremely self-satisfied but also insisted on strict, surrealistic aesthetic parameters. It creates this combination where the comedy is stilted by art and vice-versa, and the resulting machinations are obnoxious to sit through.

      I will say much of the design of Playtime is pretty. The only great example I have of surrealistic art and comedy done well would be That Obscure Object of Desire by Bunuel, his best. Also King of Comedy by Scorsese. Notice when you mix the pretense of high art with comedy you end up with many unsatisfying elements: in King of Comedy the entire film could be a troll on the audience. In Obscure... it's the antagonism between lovers wanting different things. Seems like a hard thing to get right.