VOD film review: After Love
James R | On 24, Aug 2021
Director: Aleem Khan
Cast: Joanna Scanlan
When is a film premiere not a film premiere? After Love, the feature debut of BAFTA-nominated director Aleem Khan, was selected for both the Cannes Critics’ Week and Telluride Film Festival – but didn’t screen at either because they didn’t technically take place. And so it gets its first public audience at the London Film Festival this week. That sense of dislocation and long-awaited revelation is all too fitting for the finally unveiled drama, a restrained story of grief and identity adrift at sea.
Joanna Scanlan delivers a powerhouse performance as Mary Hussain, a woman who loved her husband (Nasser Memarzia) so much that she converted to Islam to marry him. When he passes away suddenly, though, she finds herself trying to make sense of it all – not least because she swiftly discovers that he had a secret second life in France, with another woman and a son.
It’s a jolt to the system, and Scanlan’s wide-eyed dismay and disorientation is heartbreaking, as she finds an identity card in his wallet, as she boards a ferry to Calais, as she moves to confront this unknown intruder to their marriage. But, as After Love makes clear with its tender yet shocking opening scene, life isn’t simple, and what unfolds is a situation even messier than the first, as Mary finds herself intruding on the household of Geneviève (Nathalie Richard) and teen-aged Solomon (Talid Ariss).
No one in this awkwardly intimate triangle gets short shrift, and Khan’s script finds time for each player to become fully rounded and complex. Solomon has his own secrets he’s trying to hide, while Geneviève and Mary are miles apart culturally but share common ground in their joint feelings of loss and betrayal. Both women built their lives around a man who is now absent, and their attempts to piece together themselves again are beautifully observed by Khan’s understated camera, which lingers on bewildered stares and pained expressions without letting the simmering tension boil over into melodrama.
Seamlessly juggling Urdu, English and French, this is a delicate exploration of cultural, religious and familial identity, a tale of unspoken solidarity and estranged comfort, rooted in a trio of superb, nuanced performances. Make no mistake, however: this is Scanlan’s show. Mary goes by Fahima, her Muslim name, and her wearing a hijab is just one of the many tiny details that make her performance riveting to watch. The result is a moving showcase for one of the UK’s most underrated actors, and a striking calling card that marks out its director as one to watch.
Where to watch online in the UK:
This review as originally published during the 2020 London Film Festival.