Director: Joachim Lafosse
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn, Jade Soentjens, Margaux Soentjens
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“People used to be able to mend stuff. They’d mend socks, fridges… Now, they throw them out at the first problem. A relationship is the same. No desire, out it goes. But nobody’s perfect.”
The above dialogue comes from the mother of one of After Love’s protagonists. Considering how it sounds like a mission statement of sorts when taken out of context, one who’s not yet seen the film might expect that the marital feud at the film’s centre eventually dissipates, that perhaps the people facing an amorous breakdown might seek to persevere and stay together for the kids. But happy endings aren’t really the forte of Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, whose international breakthrough, 2012’s Our Children, was based on a true infanticide case.
The good news is that you need not fear for the fate of the kids entangled in the marital crisis of After Love, for they make it to the end of the film relatively unscathed. After Love is near enough a chamber piece, with all but a brief final act excursion taking place in the single ground floor apartment in which Marie (Bejo) and Boris (Kahn) have lived on relatively happy terms. When we enter the home, the separation has long been decided; we’re not witness to any instigating incident that finally set the ball rolling, but there’s plenty to infer from the radiating resentment in their exchanges or little looks of considerable discomfort.
To correct an implication from earlier in this review, the two have not been married, which means that splitting their accumulated assets from the last 15 years becomes even more of a bitter battle than it might otherwise be. They are separated but continuing to live under the same roof until their apartment can be sold, alternating the times in which they are present to spend time with the children. This is partly to do with Boris’ struggles with money. He’s a builder with architectural aspirations, whose business is in terrible shape, and he’s gotten mixed up with some shady characters, who seem to be chasing some due payment. Marie, who seems to be a little higher up the social scale than her ex, has had to pay the bills as a result of his cash-strapped ways. When it came to them getting a mortgage in the first place, they were only able to do so via a cash donation from her wealthy mother, while Boris was responsible for various renovations that significantly increased the property’s value.
Consequently, Lafosse’s film of familial friction gradually develops an allegorical layer, as the couple’s home acts as a societal microcosm of sorts. They’re in a deadlock because Boris wants half the proceeds from the flat’s sale, something Marie won’t accept. It’s the class struggle embodied in a family crisis – the party of a higher social status controls the capital in the situation, while the other doesn’t actually own the product of all his labour.
Taking away the metaphorical flourishes, After Love remains strong as a straightforward portrait of a family’s dissolution, offering subtleties alongside its occasional shouting matches. Bejo, in particular, excels when it comes to Marie’s withdrawals into icy anger, a trait also used to great effect in this past year’s The Childhood of a Leader – icy anger in a heated pressure-cooker of a drama.
After Love is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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