• International Competition


Lluís Galter

On an overcrowded summer seaside campsite, a trio of teenage girls spy on a depressed seasonal worker who dresses up as a bear – the campsite’s mascot. Their imagination, fuelled by a chilling story of a child abduction that took place a few decades earlier, leads them to believe there is something fishy about him. In a heady mix of documentary exploration, rite of passage, detective story and fairy tale, Lluís Galter mixes narrative registers to build a singular, seductive, uneasy film set against the backdrop of the torpor of summer. Spying through windows, ears glued to doors, urgently exploring empty spaces: sometimes a voyeur, sometimes a sleuth, the eye of the camera casts confusion on the relatively innocent motifs of the holiday imagery of campsites, overshadowed by the spectre of child abductions. End-of-day showers, beach sessions, card games… doubling the disquieting strangeness of this succession of motifs, the skin-tingling workmanship of the DV Pal delights as it brushes against tanned bodies, merges bare legs and tall grass, and drowns the nocturnal silhouette of a lost child in its pixels. We hear Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, which makes everything seem enchanted, until it is abruptly interrupted by frantic shouts from the campsite pool. The swampy surroundings are an invitation to night-time outings that turn into an exploration of a hostile jungle. The cry of an American bittern turns into the disturbing lament of ghosts buried in the sands, where the missing boy is eventually found. Aftersun’s synaesthetic, fragmented plot is like a child’s dream after a long day on holiday, where discoveries about adult sex lives are intertwined with naivety, games and rumours – from crime stories to local legends. It’s a strange organic journey where stories overlap and teenagers with vivid imaginations let go of their childhood via a scaremongering game.
(Claire Lasolle)Lluís Galter

Interview with Lluis Galter

Aftersun takes as its starting point a crime news story concerning the disappearance of a Swiss child, René Henzig, on holiday with his parents in San Pere Pescador, on the Costa Brava, in 1980. How did you find out about it and what was the genesis of the film?

I read about this story about ten years ago, in a book published by the coroner Narcís Bardalet, a famous doctor in my hometown. He would later appear in Aftersun as the narrator of the story.
Actually, the genesis of the film is in 2011 when I wrote a script with Clara Roquet. The film was called ‘Holidaymakers’. It was, more or less, a classic drama. We tried to get money from film institutions, go to co-production markets… but we only got the money to make a teaser with a big frog mascot walking in a camping site and old images of myself with my mom in the 80s. The project failed but those two elements were unconsciously important for Aftersun.

The story of René Henzig, which troubles and at the same time stimulates the imagination of the young teenagers attending the camp, seems to repeat itself following the disappearance of another child, Max Baumgartner. However, the film moves away from the usual narrative paths to follow a more impressionistic and sensorial approach. How did you work on the structure of the film? Did you write a script to follow or did the film take shape rather at the editing stage?

Even if there was that old 2011 script I mentioned, we never re-read it when we decided to shoot the film. Actually, Aftersun was not even a film back in 2017 when we started. I asked for a couple of visual arts grants to make an experimental video project. The missing kid was a starting point but our goal was to play with a tourist video camera and explore its possibilities by trying to shoot in a camp as if something very dark just happened several years ago.

The first summer was mainly observational. A kid in the sand, a mother and a child in the camping toilets… And some weird things like the process of building a tent in close and precise shots. But the second day we met the three girls. We asked them if they would like to be in the film. They accepted. We shot them playing cards and speculating about the missing kid. Then I asked them to make some suspicious looks (I didn’t know what they were looking at but they were amazing!) In the afternoon, we listened to a little Dutch Christian community living in the camp that had a big bear mascot with them. We decided to shoot it. So now the girls were looking at the big bear! That night I edited a first cut of that scene. The girls playing, the hands building the tent, the bear walking. The film starts there, somehow. I didn’t know what would happen next but I knew the way I wanted to do things.

After 10 days shooting, between 2017 and 2018, we had no structure at all. We were basically playing and having fun with several film genres (mystery, crime, fantasy…) from a “documentary” basis. In summer 2019 we couldn’t shoot because of work duties so I kept filming with my family in another camp and started editing and thinking about Aftersun as a potential feature. I built a film timeline with a lot of gaps I would fill the next summer.

How did you choose and direct the young actors? Did they participate in some way in the construction of the scenes? And more generally, how was the shooting with all the cast members?

Regarding the young actresses, we combined spontaneous acting with a more rigid and mechanical mise en scène. In the editing I sometimes mixed an improvised dialogue with a situation we initially shot for a different purpose. Even if the film has some planned sequences (when the girls escape with the car), most of them are created in the editing. Their characters were somehow defined. They played detectives as if everything was a naïve child’s game.

On the other hand, the adults were something different. We invited them the second summer (2018). Their role was always ambiguous. Sometimes they grieved like a missing kid’s parents, sometimes they acted like kidnappers and sometimes they were just some camping workers hanging around. They would be everything at the same time, as if the girls’ point of view tried to look through their bodies to discover who they were. The only certainty is that from a kid’s vision there’s something obscure in this couple of adults they cannot penetrate. Also, their presence is sometimes less realistic and assumes some genre clichés. The man with the cigarette, the woman with the blond hair. The knife, the gun, the telephone, the box. The adults are somehow the objects’ appendixes. The girls fantasize about a crime plot that is always more interesting than reality.

In addition to the characters embodied by the actors, the camera itself seems to become a character in its own right, a kind of detective who does not follow any specific clues but wanders freely in this environment. Could you tell us what were the ideas that guided the direction of the photography and led to the plastic construction of the film?

Aftersun would never exist without this specific camera. Somehow, even if I was behind it all the time, the camera looked at the world on its own terms and showed me the things in a way I would never have expected. We built a strange relationship. Every summer I imagined a little more how the camera would react so my directions would be more and more accurate. The mystery of the film starts there. I never knew exactly what the final image would be. So it always fascinated me and kept me trying to find the next one. With the modern HD cameras there’s no such ambiguity. Everything is crystal clear. And then you can build the image in color correction. I didn’t do any color correction (only a few shots). Somehow, the direction of photography is more about choosing an image or another in the editing and combining them to achieve a specific sense.

We had a little LED with us only last summer, so we managed to create some more unnaturalistic atmospheres, but the nature of the film was to deal only with this small two-button-camera. The film begins like a home movie with my wife and my kid. So, even if we play with genre or sophisticate the editing, the film should keep this essence.

The film is shot in DV PAL. Could you explain the choice of this medium?

When I did my second feature La substància we wanted to shoot some footage in Cadaqués (Costa Brava) as if it was made by tourists. We tried a lot of cameras, old and new, and a friend brought her father’s little handycam. We only shot a couple minutes but I fell in love with those colors and textures. So the old story of the missing kid I had written 10 years ago came to my mind with a new perspective.

Also, as the process of making La substància had been very harsh and I wasn’t very pleased with the final cut, I remembered how I started making films. And that was with some friends back in the 90s with a very similar camera, on Friday afternoons after high school, in someone’s place shooting short films we actually never finished. We had a lot of fun trying to imitate the movies we saw, editing in the same camera and recycling the same tape once and again. I wanted to recover that spirit, a playful and unprejudiced way to make films, finding its inner magic with those same old friends.

Interview by Marco Cipollini

  • International Competition

Technical sheet

Spain / 2022 / Couleur / 70’

Original version : catalan, german
Subtitles : english
Script : Lluís Galter
Photography : Lluís Galter
Editing : Lluís Galter
Music : Claude Débussy
Sound : Sergi Custey, Raul Fernandez
Casting : Alex Moreu, Carmela Poch
Production : Lluís Galter, Albert Pons et Oriol Cid (Carmel).

Filmography : The Substance, 2016. 70 Venezia Reloaded, 2013. H, 2012. Caracremada, 2010.