After Love

 

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A family in crisis is portrayed with absolute realism in this domestic drama from Belgium.

 
After Love
Cédric Kahn and Bérénice Bejo

 

Although Our Children (2012) was admired by many, I found it difficult to decide exactly what it was getting at. However, there's no such problem this time around for Joachim Lafosse’s latest film, After Love, could not be clearer in its focus. The subject here, unvarnished, is the breakdown of a family unit: Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and Boris (Cédric Kahn) have been a couple for fifteen years but are now kept together only by mutual concern for their young twins (Margaux and Jade Soentjens). The four of them may still share the house that belongs to Marie but already a regime has been set up whereby Boris is allowed there to look after the children only on set days of the week and at set times.

Taking place in a Brussels that we scarcely see, Lafosse’s film despite being shot in ’Scope is deliberately enclosed, an intimate drama of disintegration that takes place largely indoors. In keeping with this approach, there are no flashbacks, just a close wholly believable study of a couple whose former love has turned to hatred. Towards the end of the film one dramatic event occurs (but not so dramatic as to interfere with the sense of viewing everyday life under the microscope). However, it is through the tensions between Marie and Boris and their very occasional (and touching) moments of rapprochement that After Love reveals the sad state of affairs. Indirectly the viewer can put together the root problems. Boris is lower class, less well off by far and mixes with undesirable acquaintances. Marie claims that she can no longer trust him, remembering promises that have so often not been honoured. As played by Bejo and Kahn, it is all totally believable and no less so because we can share the dismay of their friends at the needling, hostile way in which they now treat each other.

The film’s refusal to expand beyond this phase in their relationship is its central feature. Some may hail this as admirably pure (no false dramatics, no emotional manipulation of the audience) but, while I can understand that viewpoint, it also seems to me to be the film’s weakness. That is because for most of the running time (102 minutes) the behaviour of the couple goes round in circles so that there is precious little sense of development. I regard that as a limitation, but viewers who come to After Love recognising in it experiences that they themselves have known will admire its honesty. The honesty extends to the film’s portrayal of the children who are certainly victims but whose not infrequent bad behaviour is simply part of the film’s clear-eyed view of human nature.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Margaux Soentjens, Jade Soentjens.

 

Dir Joachim Lafosse, Pro Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart, Sylvie Pialat and Benoît Quainon, Screenplay Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino and Joachim Lafosse with the collaboration of Thomas Van Zuylen, Ph Jean-François Hensgens, Art Dir Olivier Radot, Ed Yann Dedet, Costumes Pascaline Chavanne.

 

Les Films du Worso/Versus Production/RTBF  (Télévision Belge)/VOO/Be tv/Prime Time/Canal+/Cine+-Curzon Artificial Eye.
102 mins. France/Belgium. 2016. Rel: 28 October 2016. Cert. 12A.