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
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