Sunday, August 6, 2017

A relationship dissolves in Joachim Lafosse's astute and painful drama, AFTER LOVE

How does a 15-year relationship end between two attractive, intelligent partners who have a pair of lovely twin daughters that both of them adore? Discover the answer via a new and often searing piece of cinema entitled AFTER LOVE (the even better French title is L'économie du couple).

As directed by Joachim Lafosse (pictured below, who earlier gave us the equally searing Our Children back in 2012) and co-written by Lafosse, Fanny Burdino, Mazarine Pingeot and Thomas van Zuylen, the movie
probes the final weeks (maybe months) of that relationship by simply showing us, yes, scenes from this particular "marriage." M. Lafosse, wisely I think, gives us little exposition, except what we can pick up from the (often heated) exchanges between our two protagonists. From these we gather that she is the much more financially independent partner; he seems to be near constantly short of money, though when he does work -- as an architect/home renovator -- he does a good job. He also owes money to some rather unsavory characters. Does he perhaps have a gambling problem?

We never really learn the answer to this, or to some of our other questions, but this matters little, since we learn enough about these two that we can quickly enter into their lives and discover more as we go along.

As played by the hugely talented and fiercely committed performers Bérénice Bejo (above) and writer/actor/director Cédric Kahn (below), this pair is brought to fine and seething life. They are given plenty to say and feel via the smart and believably elliptical dialog provided by the writing team, while the choice of incidents given us by Lafosse is just varied and interesting enough to hold us fast.

The film's finest and most spectacular scene comes midway at a dinner party she has organized for the couple's friends, though he has not been invited. When he shows up, the sparks that fly seem all by themselves enough to melt this iceberg of a relationship, only the tip of which we've so far been able to fully view.

The couple's twin children (above), played with near-perfect skill and enthusiasm by newcomers Jade and Margaux Soentjens, seem to be holding up as well as could be expected under this onslaught (their parents at least have the sense to try to explain what's going on to their children as much as possible). Still, the movie should keep any of you who've experienced the anger, pain and sadness of separation where children are involved alert and very on-edge.

If After Love were all just anger and recrimination, the film would be harder to sit through than it is. But the filmmaker has provided moments of respite in which we can't help but wonder if things might finally be salvaged here.

Both parents clearly have their good and bad points, and both seem at times to want to repair some of the damage that's been done (he more than she, and perhaps for economic reasons above all). In the supporting cast, everyone is good, but the stand-out would be Marthe Keller, playing Bejo's mother, a woman who understands relationships and the work it takes to keep them going.

When, at last, agreement is reached between this pair, you're likely to feel relief -- and even greater sadness. As movies about marriage/relationships go, After Love is certainly one of the better examples.

From Distrib Films US, in French with English subtitles and running a just-about-right 100 minutes. the movie opens this Wednesday, August 9 in new York City at the Quad Cinema, and on Friday, August 25, in San Francisco (at the 4 Star Cinema) and on Friday, September 1, in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal). Elsewhere? Not sure, but you might try clicking on the film's website and then scrolling down to the task bar midway and clicking on Theaters.

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