Film Review – After Love
After Love shows how the world has to keep going even when the love of a long time relationship has ended and there are the realities of the aftermath. Maria (Bérénice Bejo) and Boris (Cédric Kahn) are a couple with two school age girls who are in the midst of a breakup. We do not know exactly why they are breaking up, but we see some of the issues Marie has with Boris not having steady work while Boris mentions that Maria is not being fair about the value of their house since he believes he raised the value of the property by the work he put into it. Yet why is not the important part here, but rather what does this mean for them?
Almost ninety-nine percent of this movie either takes place in the house or the courtyard of the house so that we see the daily interactions. Many are simply shots of Maria lying in bed or the family sitting down for dinner. These mundane interactions work as a launching point for tension between the couple as fights can happen at the drop of a hat. There is a stimulus for them, be it something big like Boris bringing an appraiser over to the house without telling Marie about it to Boris texting and Maria just being annoyed. Yet they also are trying to keep a relative peace and be civil when they work together to reassure the children when they fight, and try to calm down and discuss or do things as a family to keep a level of normalcy and even enter the happy routine that they once had.
Even in those moments the overall central issue is infused in most of the film: Maria wants Boris to leave and find somewhere else to live since the house is in her name. He is reluctant to leave and break up the family but also cannot afford it. The only work offered him is by his mother-in-law, but Maria doesn’t want him to have the job believing it is just him taking money from her family. As with a lot of breakups emotions are running high and there is logic to be found in both of their arguments. Be that as it is, with these kind of movies you are always drawn to one individual more than the other and I personally found Maria to be a lot more compelling. It might be because I enjoyed the dramatic work Bérénice Bejo did in The Past and just genuinely find her engaging, or that, despite that bias, she came across as more sympathetic and logical to me. She appears to be the main disciplinarian of their two girls and has been the main breadwinner of the family even if some of that comes from borrowing from her parents. Boris has had less luck working and appears to owe money to some reprehensible individuals. Does that mean Boris is completely wrong? Absolutely not, but it is interesting how we start to sympathize with one person even if we are not trying to, and this film leaves it open for us to make that connection without ever making someone the villain.
This is a film that lives and dies by its actors and Bérénice Bejo does some great dramatic work here. Her entire body language shows a person on edge. Boris’s very presence in the house irritates her on levels she cannot even completely comprehend. She gives a great speech to some friends about this that shows how over time the ideas of love can change and you start to wonder who were you when you fell in love. She can convey these emotions in the way she looks, moves and, when the movie calls for it, yells and screams; nothing feels inauthentic.
Cédric Kahn has a different set of emotions to express. He seems to not want the breakup but if it has to go through he wants respect from his wife. Her denying him what he thinks is his fair share of the house or making comments about her money keeping him afloat when he came from nothing undermines the value of the work he has done. He appears more overtly emotional due to the conflicting feelings that his wife creates in him. His anger at her trying to control him can make him do things that made me want to yell “I can’t believe you did that,” but it is understandable in this situation and never turns into anything abusive or dangerous.
As a glimpse into this time in a couple’s life we are treated to the reality of how painful a breakup can be. We see that nothing is simple and that emotions can make what are usually rational individuals lash out or just sink into their current unhappiness. This isn’t a film that is bereft of hope or languishes in darkness, but rather portrays what breakups can feel like, and it is mostly trying to figure out where to go from here. Director Joachim Lafosse and writer Fanny Burdino have a fine nuanced film showing us just that.