Greetings again from the darkness. There are two reasons I was excited to see Paul Mescal nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film. First, he deserved it. Secondly, it offers hope that more people will seek out this terrific, albeit heartbreaking, debut feature film from writer-director Charlotte Wells.
Calum (Paul Mescal, THE LOST DAUGHTER, 2021) takes his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) on a vacation to a resort in Turkey, where they swim and frolic in the sun. Even though she lives with her mother, Sophie and her dad have a close bond. She’s a very observant and perceptive girl, which is crucial given that Calum is a loving and caring dad, but he’s also displaying some disturbing signs of depression. What’s terrific here is that Sophie is smart, but not over-the-top; while Calum is a good dad, but not flawless. In other words, these are two normal people spending time together.
There is a sadness to Calum, even though he is patient and charming. He thinks he hides more from Sophie than he actually does. His calm demeanor on the outside is clearly hiding burning emotions that his tai chi can’t cover. While Calum is teetering in life, Sophie is teetering between independence and being daddy’s girl. She recognizes his anxiety but doesn’t yet possess the savvy or experience to know what it means – although she states this gem, “It’s nice that we share the same sky.” What a lovely sentiment.
The vacation is set in the 1990’s, however the twist served by filmmaker Wells is that adult Sophie (played in glimpses by Celia Rowlson-Hall) is reminiscing some twenty years in the future by re-watching the camcorder tapes from that vacation. She’s looking back with a different filter on what she experienced with her dad … searching for additional insight to the man she so adored. Sophie has visions of watching her dad on the dance floor as “Under Pressure” blasts under the strobe lights. This prevents her (or us) from interpreting these as memories of bliss. Rather it’s her search for meaning. Charlotte Wells drew inspiration for this story from her own childhood vacation with her dad. This is the first screen appearance for young Frankie Corio, but she perfectly captures the close relationship with dad. As movie lovers, we can only hope this is the start of a special story-telling career for Charlotte Wells, but even if this is her peak, it’s a gem few ever match.