There is something about French films. They just make great films. Of all sorts. Comedy, drama, action, and sci fi. Does not make a difference which genre; they just do it well. Even smaller films that focus on everyday type stories are within their wheelhouse. Such is the case with Joachim Lafosse’s (Private Property, Our Children) drama about a marriage falling apart, After Love.
Divorce is something that happens with regularity in today’s world. Many films have looked at this issue and how it affects the individuals and family units involved. Done so often the challenge is to look at divorce or family break up from a different angle or it relegates your film to a staleness. Instead this film is a psychological study of a failed marriage. One that seems very relevant to the world today.
Marie (Berenice Bejo – The Artist, A Knight’s Tale) and Boris (Cedric Kahn – Up for Love, Les Anarchistes) have been together as a married couple for 15 years. They have twin daughters, Jade and Margaux (Jade and Margaux Soentjens – first film). Despite the fact that they are all still living in the same house, they are not a happy family. Actually, Marie wants Boris out as they are in the midst of a divorce. Boris does not have a job or money so refuses to leave. He also wants Marie to give him half of the house’s value (200,000 Euros) as, though he did not pay for the house or the mortgage, he feels his work renovating it is worth that.
The couple fight all the time. About everything. Money, soccer boots, how to parent their daughters. Everything. It is not a happy home. In order to get out from under all this unhappiness, Marie tells her mother (Marthe Keller – Bobby Deerfield, Marathon Man) that she is thinking of selling the house her father left her. Her other option is when a friend of her father’s offers her an interest free loan in order to buy out Boris. She just does not think that Boris deserves half of the house’s value. There situation seems at a deadlock with no way out that either can live with.
Realism is the name of the game here. The downfall of the Marie and Boris marriage is not pretty. It is depressing to watch. A couple who obviously at one time loved one another and now hatred is what they feel. We are watching a war – on the domestic front – happen. It is brutal, long and dark. Depressing because of the realism. This is what many couples go through in one form or another. You see with a glaring obviousness how it affects them and their children. It is not pretty. Millions of couples will be able to relate.
The well written and directed film is helped along by the strong performances by the actors involved. Special mention for the highly watchable Berenice Bejo. She has the tougher job as her character can be seen as a heartless and stuck up bitch. Marie could have come off as one dimensional. A woman who is cold and cruel, not really caring at all about the man she has been with for a long time or his well being. She cannot even remember why she fell in love with this man, who she cannot even stand being in the same room with anymore. Instead Bejo crafts Marie into someone whose behaviour we understand. She is a woman at the end of her rope and just wants her life back.
Class structure, which we in the Western world today like to pretend does not exist anymore, has a part to play in the film. She comes from a rich, comfortable background while he is definitely working class. The difference is blatant. This gives the film a different depth. It is not just about emotions, but money plays a part.