Im­pos­si­ble to fault, hard to like

AFTERLOVE ★★★★ Di­rected by Joachim Lafosse. Star­ring Bérénice Bejo, Cé­dric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Jade Soen­t­jens, Mar­gaux Soen­t­jens. Club, IFI mem­bers, 100mins

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

If film­maker Joachim Lafosse’s in­ten­tion was to launch a thou­sand dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing di­vorce memes, then mis­sion ac­com­plished. To wit: here comes that un­com­fort­able feel­ing when you’ve turned up for a din­ner party, and your friend’s ex-hus­band bursts in just as she is dish­ing the dirt. It gets worse: Why haven’t you called him? Why can’t he sit down for cake?

To watch Af­ter Love – which pre­miered at Direc­tors’ Fort­night in Cannes – is to be one of the friends at the ac­cursed din­ner party. From the get-go, this as­phyx­i­at­ing, foren­sic de­pic­tion of mar­i­tal break­down leaves the pained viewer won­der­ing: When will this end? Can it be now, please?

The de­tails make for mad­den­ingly shift­ing al­le­giances. As the film opens, handy­man Boris (Cé­dric Kahn) and Marie (Bérénice Bejo) are very much at the end of their mar­riage, but have been forced, for fi­nan­cial rea­sons, to live to­gether in their gar­den apart­ment, with their two young daugh­ters. There are end­less re­crim­i­na­tions: she hisses that he has turned up on what is “not his night”, that there isn’t enough pasta, and that she doesn’t want him smil­ing and tex­ting (an in­fi­delity is in­di­cated but not spec­i­fied) from the same couch she is sit­ting on. We quickly as­cer­tain that she has paid for ev­ery­thing, while he has never re­ally worked, and is squat­ting in or­der to get half of the apart­ment’s worth, on the grounds that he ren­o­vated it.

She is clipped and largely un­for­giv­ing; he eats all the cheese. He prom­ises to buy foot­ball boots for his daugh­ter. He doesn’t. But Marie does, kick-start­ing yet an­other row. And on and on and on.

The girls, played by sis­ters Jade and Mar­gaux Soen­t­jens, cling fast to mummy and cheer for daddy, re­gard­less.

As with the di­rec­tor’s pre­vi­ous depth-charges into fa­mil­ial dys­func­tion – see the dis­tress­ing Pri­vate Prop­erty (2006) and the mer­ci­lessly grim Our Chil­dren (2012) – Af­ter Love is al­most too good at its job: im­pos­si­ble to fault, hard to like, and likely to leave one pin­ing for the com­par­a­tive jol­lity of Kramer vs Kramer. Jean-François Hens­gens’s close-quar­ters cam­era and Olivier Radot’s pro­duc­tion leaves no breath­ing space. Kahn is im­pres­sive, yet the film be­longs to Bejo, who, fresh from a sim­i­larly wounded per­for­mance in As­ghar Farhadi’s The Past, brings tex­ture to her char­ac­ter’s seem­ingly end­less ex­as­per­a­tion.

Bérénice Bejo, Jade and Mar­gaux Soen­t­jens and Cé­dric Kahn in Af­ter Love

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