Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells has been moving audiences to tears with her mesmerizing debut feature, Aftersun. The film explores grief through the perspective of a young and adult version of Sophie, played by Frankie Corio and Celia Rowlson-Hall, as she spends a holiday with her single father, Calum (Paul Mescal).

Inspired by, but not based on, Wells’ experiences as the child of young parents, the '90s-based film is simple in its narrative structure, but the audio and visuals of the film leave us with a painful memory from our youths. As the film continues, we move into some more sophisticated with deeply moving performances from the young cast.

The team behind Aftersun gave this indie project a life that was unexpected, yet well-deserved as this is one of the most stunning films of the year. Although Aftersun's screenplay equally moved us to tears, we want to know how the camera and lens choice for this film added to the narrative impact. 

Let’s get into it!

Cameras Used on Aftersun 

Cinematographer Gregory Oke chose the ARRI Arricam Lite with the Cooke S4 Lenses 35mm. Using an Arricam LT gave Oke and the team the ability to be nimble on set and quickly adapt to any scene or environment. The intimate story pulls and pushes, and the camera needed to be light enough to quickly follow the changing tones of the film.

There is a weird stigma around digital video (DV) cinema cameras. Sure, the visual texture that DV cameras create looks like you are trying to record an entire movie with your Nokia flip phone. It’s not a sophisticated look, but it is the look of a home video. It invokes nostalgia. Because if you like it or not, DV cameras are vintage now.

This is what Wells wanted for Aftersun. She wanted to lean into a grainy early digital look that feels reminiscent of home videos from the ‘90s and early 2000s.

When the Arricam LT was not being used, Oke chose a Panasonic NV-DS77 EG or the NV DS-55B, which were used for the handheld camera sequences. Some handheld DV camcorders may have an SD card slot that you can record to. This allows filmmakers to skip the magnetic DV tape to go straight to digital. Or you can "Log and Capture" the footage like in the old days. Here's a great video from Mark Holtze to give you an idea of the workflow, but your process might differ depending on the outputs you have.

For certain scenes, like the grain-on-grain sequence where Calum films his sleeping daughter on the miniDV cam, Wells revealed in an interview with The Playlist that they had a miniDV on night mode that created a latticed pattern on the screen. 

The cameras and lenses used on 'Aftersun''Aftersun'Credit: A24

“He puts the camera down, and it’s just pointing into the sheet, and it’s this pink texture,” Wells said in the interview. “We reshot it with 35mm, so you have the grain of 35mm, on top of this weird digital noise. I would have played that shot for three minutes.”

The film is one way to increase the difference between the early days of digital cameras and the look of celluloid, which could have been the filmmakers' intention.

The Lenses of Aftersun

Cooke lenses are all about character, leading to what many call "the Cooke Look.As I mentioned earlier, Aftersun was shot on Cooke S4 lenses and this glass was probably chosen due to its creamy, soft, natural look. The S4s create an image that is noticeably softer and low in contrast while allowing flaring of highlights and reflecting to create a more vintage feel to the imagery. 

Oke, who has often worked in a sound department for several films, is still green to the scene, so it makes sense that he chose Cooke lenses for this nostalgia-heavy film. They are great lenses that are easy to work with since they capture a very natural-looking scene.

Breaking Down Aftersun’s Cinematography

Although some Reddit users are underwhelmed by the cinematography of Aftersun, with one user stating that the film “looks like a disappointing student film, shot too close with awkward framing made worse by being [in an aspect ratio of] 16:9, and unmotivated camera movement.” While I don’t agree that this film’s cinematography is disappointing, I do agree with the Reddit user’s remarks about the choices made.

The cinematography is awkward yet beautiful, much like the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl who is learning and navigating her complex emotions and deteriorating relationship with her father.

Many scenes are awkwardly framed as Sophie and Calum try their best to navigate their complexities, often refusing to look at themselves or find a clear way to express themselves.

The cameras and lenses used on 'Aftersun''Aftersun'Credit: A24

Outside of the awkward framing and unmotivated camera movement, the nature cinematography is saturated in blues and golden tones, adding to the escapism that this trip is supposed to be. These colors through the Cooke S4 lenses add to the nostalgia of this film, which often feels like a distant memory for viewers who have similar experiences of these characters.

With the miniDV camera added to the visual language, Wells is obvious in her choices to evoke something distant and familiar, like a home video hidden in a box in your parent’s storage closet.

In contrast, Wells presents nightmares that reflect Sophie’s relationship, both past and present, with her father. The strobe lights give us glimpses of a scene that is not quite realized. It’s constantly in motion, yet we only get bits and pieces of what is happening. While these shots are jarring compared to the golden hues of a past vacation, they are a great visual representation of a fractured relationship due to both characters attempting to find who they are while fitting into their established societal roles.  

The Final Scene of Aftersun 

The power of Aftersun comes from its subtlety. It is resistant to explain everything or look at the world in an over-beautified way. Instead, we are asked to look and examine from a distance.

We, like Sophie, are without power or influence. Instead, we must navigate what we are left with.

At the end of Aftersun, Calum is weighed down, and there is something adult Sophie wants to know about her relationship with her father, things that she might have wanted to ask on that vacation we watched unfold. Instead, we see the past and present storylines intertwine as Calum leaves Sophie at the airport and walks back into the rave he has been dancing at in adult Sophie’s dreams.

It’s a quiet and isolated ending that refuses to follow Calum. Like Sophie, the audience is left watching and waiting for something. But that’s Aftersun’s appeal: it leaves you with only the final image. It’s heartbreaking and almost traumatizing as we watch Calum walk away to never become anything more than someone who wishes that they were still young and carefree.

Once Calum is back in the rave, the audience is left to piece that final moment together. The sterile lights of the airport against the flashing lights just beyond the swinging door is that same jarring contrast that Wells and Oke established early in the film.

The cameras and lenses used on 'Aftersun'Paul Mescal as Calum Paterson in 'Aftersun'Credit: A24

Aftersun is not a complicated film that needs to be dissected, but we are still fascinated by how effectively the visual language supports a reserved narrative. The film is a masterclass for first-time filmmakers learning to navigate their dramatic stories on a tight budget. Sometimes, the simplest options are the best choices as they allow the strong moments of the film to truly shine.

Let us know what you think of the cinematography of Aftersun in the comments below!

Source: IMDb