Special first and second feature films by new makers at Cannes: Aftersun is the discovery this year

Image from Charlotte Wells’ movie Aftersun.

‘Here I am. And this is after sun, a film that depicts my past and present in all sorts of ways; my hopes and dreams and worries and fears and aspirations. And they will be unveiled to you in a moment on this meter-sized canvas.’

These are the words of 34-year-old Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells, who until recently was only known and loved by a modest following of short film programs at a handful of international film festivals. At the film festival in Cannes, her feature film debut will have topped their must-see list with few visitors before the start.

Everything is different afterwards: after sun developed quickly through word of mouth and a handful of glowing reviews into the festival’s ultimate discovery in recent days.

after sunmade under the banner of the film production company of moonlightdirector Barry Jenkins, portrays the memories of a young woman who looks back on a sun-drenched holiday she spent as a child with her father, filled with deeply felt melancholy. With a sensitive eye and the visual finesse that belongs to the greatest filmmakers, Wells combines a cheerful, summery atmosphere with unspoken doom: in her father’s head a darkness is churning that is increasingly difficult to suppress. Great game also from the young father (Paul Mescal from Normal People) and daughter (the debutante Frankie Corio selected from eight hundred candidates).

One kilometer from the big red carpet on which everyone is parading towards the gala premieres this week, Wells presents her film in a somewhat cramped cinema. This is where the films of La Semaine de la Critique are screened, a parallel festival program founded sixty years ago by a group of French film critics to highlight first and second films by talented makers.

This is the place in Cannes for anyone looking for the filmmakers of the future. Movie greats such as Ken Loach and Wong Kar Wai showed their early work here in the past. More recently, Julia Ducournau’s career was finally launched here, with cannibal drama raw (2016). Ducournau experienced last year how powerful this part of the program for film talents can act as a springboard towards the international film elite, so here only one kilometer away: with her second film Titane she was promoted to the main competition of the festival, to be immediately awarded the Golden Palm.

Browsing on the side paths of the festival also remains a relief because of the charming context in which the films of the as yet less well-known makers are presented. In the first days of the festival, for example, we saw actor Jesse Eisenberg (debuting as director with the light-hearted coming-of-age film When You Finish Saving the World) wittily moaning about the almost simultaneous premiere of Top Gunmaverick, which turned out rather bombastic with a couple of fighter jets flying low over the resort. Like throwing a party, Eisenberg said, and the coolest kid in the class decides to do it all much bigger and more ambitious.

And oh, the French star actress Adèle Exarchopoulos gets a wonderful round of applause when she thunders onto the stage at just past ten on Monday morning. She is too late, the interview session with the public after the atmospheric and sometimes Lynchian inscrutable mother-daughter drama Les cinq diables in which she plays the leading role, has already started. But no one cares. She’s equally touchable this morning.

Adele Exarchopoulos in Le cinq diables by Léa Mysius.  Image

Adele Exarchopoulos in Le cinq diables by Léa Mysius.