Review: ‘Aftersun,’ one of the year’s great debut films, is a piercing father-daughter story about two women fighting for their lives in the violent aftermath of a family tragedy.
By Roger Ebert
It’s hard at times to believe that Aftersun was the year’s most talked-about film. But it was that way when it was first released, in late 2004 or early 2005. It had a powerful, disturbing, deeply personal story to tell about the woman — or, rather, the mother — who is the head of the household in an economically depressed family in Thailand. The woman, Suni (Wang Leehom), is a survivor of rape and a mother who holds her family together. She’s tough and beautiful, and, when her husband is arrested for drug distribution, Suni takes the child she has with another man and decides to take care of her and raise them. She does this, but her family is shattered. Her husband and son are killed, and Suni is imprisoned as a criminal, without the right to see the boy. And still, she continues to care for Suni’s daughter, Suna (Lai Waihajirao), and protect her from the cruel treatment inflicted on her mother. It’s an epic story of survival, with a few twists of fate, one involving a beautiful, beautiful woman, one involving the loss of a male child, like a son. It’s not a story of easy redemption, and in fact it does not come in any recognizable Hollywood form. It is, instead, a story with a cast of extraordinary characters who all struggle to find their own way to a more complete personhood. The film was a commercial failure in the United States, but that’s not important — the film’s brilliance lies in its structure. It starts in the middle — with the mother’s prison — and then it goes on to follow the life of the woman and the daughter, as they learn to find and respect each other in what