After Love

Year: 2017
Production Co: Les Films du Worso
Director: Joachim Lafosse
Writer: Joachim Lafosse/Fanny Burdino/Mazarine Pingeot/Thomas van Zuylen
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn

One of the things that strikes us all at some point when we grow up and enter into marriages/relationships is that there's no rulebook about how to behave, what the rules are or what you're supposed to do in certain circumstances.

That goes doubly so for when a relationship ends, and it's that inherent tension which After Love is not only about but deals with beautifully. There's a scene when Marie (Bérénice Bejo, of silent Oscar winner The Artist fame) is in the bath, trying to relax and get away from the stress of her crumbling marriage when her husband Boris (Cédric Kahn) comes in to brush his teeth.

Bejo portrays the mild confusion and wonder about how outraged she should be so perfectly it's heartbreaking. We're splitting up, she wants to tell him, so the act of walking into the bathroom while I'm not dressed – something so innocuous and everyday it hardly occurs to most couples – is a violation. Does she have the right to tell Boris to get lost and give her some privacy because she considers their marriage over, that it's him being pigheaded and holding on to what's obviously over? He certainly doesn't think so and even if she did, it's his bathroom too - because of their financial situation, Boris still lives there most of the time.

It's one of the many scenes that so insightfully illustrate how sensitively and realistically everyone involved (the actors in particular, but writer/director Joachim Lafosse and co-writers Fanny Burdino, Mazarine Pingeot and Thomas van Zuylen as well) portrays the subject. It's a story going on a thousand times around you no matter what neighbourhood or country you live in – something you're just as likely to suffer as you are cancer or heart disease – and it's no less heartbreaking or emotional for how humdrum it all is, especially since there's not a single thrown coffee cup or scream of hatred anywhere.

For example, when Boris crashes a dinner party Marie is trying to enjoy with her friends and makes a proper arsehole out of himself, Maria certainly wants to throw things and curse his name, imploring her friends to sympathise with what she's putting up with, but she doesn't want to make every conversation all about her unhappiness and the friction beteeen the hollow roar of misery in her soul and social propriety is thick enough to drown in.

When we first meet Marie and Boris, it's already over – Boris might not want to admit it, but the contempt between them (even while the last vestiges of love still linger) is palpable. And to the script's eternal credit, it's not just about them or their feelings. Their two adorable twin girls Jade and Margeaux are more than just ciphers or plot devices used to make Boris and Marie's breakup more difficult, they're characters who have real impact on the story.

But one of the biggest triumphs in the realism is that their financial situation isn't just an afterthought the way most film stories about marriage or impending divorce treats it. Figuring out how they can possibly live apart on the money they can earn from work or the sale of property take an outsized amount of time on the decisions Marie and Boris have to make.

Boris has a chance to make the money on a construction job that will decouple him from Marie that's coming up through a friend of hers, but she doesn't want to be the source of Boris' income and further connect herself to his situation – he can find and complete his own work.

Their house came from money in her family, but Boris insists he did so much work on it any settlement from sale should be more in his favour than Marie feels he deserves. Just like in real life, money weighs incredibly heavily on many of the decisions we make about romantic or married life.

But After Love also captures tiny, almost imperceptible moments that only someone who's lived through it will understand. As Marie sits on the edge of the bed, shaking her head so lightly you can hardly see it, you can almost hear her desire to stand up, run out of the house and never come back. She never thought her life would end up like this, even that she's so heartsick and tired of just sitting on the edge of the bed shaking her head for want of a solution.

Like the whole film, everything about the gesture is under the surface. The action on screen is domestic, prosaic and everyday. It's the internal lives of the characters that are full of volcanic hatred and anguished screams, and you see glimpses of them through miniscule, perfectly timed and perfectly pitched gestures.

It's tempting to think of Boris as the bad guy – he does reveal a boorish side – but that's only because of an innate protective sense we all have towards women and a tendency to think a marriage gone bad is the man's fault (an aspect the film acknowledges as well).

There's also no really firm inciting incident or conclusion – the story begins with Boris and Marie out of love and ends when they're preparing to move on from each other. It's just a series of very realistic, very perceptive and brilliantly writen, acted and directed happenstance in life that's rarely revealed so nakedly but which is so easy to relate to if you've ever been an adult in a marriage.

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