The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - AFTER LOVE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - AFTER LOVE

after love review
A widow travels to France to meet her late husband's mistress.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Aleem Khan

Starring: Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss, Nasser Memarzia

after love poster

Even though we are fully aware that it cannot and does not last forever, this understanding does not prevent us from placing our every hope upon, and basing a cultural belief system around, the redemptive promise of love. Maybe the fragility of love, and the capricious customs of fate, makes it so valuable. Even love which didn’t last is better than love which never launched. After all, even when a relationship ends, either via a break-up, or, in the case of Aleem Khan’s propitious debut After Love, death, the memories of what was once shared abide, and are almost as precious as the lived experience itself.

But what if those memories were tainted, if they were bogus, even? If there was some information uncovered which shifted the entire relationship into question? It would be devastating. This is what happens to Mary, a recent widower who discovers that her deceased husband has for years been putting one on some French woman across the channel during his work commutes to Calais. You think you know someone, eh? Furthermore, the life you thought you had, the trust you shared with someone, is suddenly spurious (disclosure: Mary is played by god Joanna Scanlan, an absolute favourite. I’d say I’ll try to retain a critical objectivity, but, you know, it's Joanna Scanlan. Anyone can see how incredible she always is).

after love review

Mary and Ahmed’s (Nasser Memarzia) love-worn marriage is established in After Love’s opening sequences. We see the couple bringing in the shopping, and hear the kettle whistling, in a comfortable groove of mutuality. But then, in one of the film’s first examples of life’s essential unfairness, Ahmed passes away as immediately as he does peacefully in his cosy armchair (probably exhausted from all that extra-curricular shagging), getting out easy and leaving Mary to discover a message left on his phone which suggests the sly old dog was living a double life à la Française...

Mary’s distinctive loneliness is visualised in a scene which depicts Ahmed’s funeral. In a Muslim ceremony in which the community grieve, pray and mourn together, Mary is centralised within the frame, her face a picture of shock and alienation. Having converted to the Muslim faith as part of her marriage to Ahmed, Mary wears a hijab and is a full practitioner of the religion’s tenements. The film suggests, however, that Mary is nonetheless bereft. She seems to have no real roots within the community, and it is only her faith which she draws strength and comfort from. After Love wears its association with Islam lightly, however: this could be any faith, really, as what the film is interested in is the unconditional (and disingenuous) nature of Mary and Ahmed’s marriage (although the positive, matter of fact depiction of multi-cultural Britain is always welcome).

after love review

Increasingly obsessed with the other woman, Mary tracks Geneviève (Nathalie Richard) down in France and fortuitously manages to inculcate herself as her cleaner. Geneviève conforms to a Western hegemony of hotness (blonde, slim) in a way that Mary doesn’t. She’s also stereotypically continental in her outlook, and, crucially, not Muslim. And what’s more, as the childless Mary commits to her one-woman Parasite tribute act, she discovers that Ahmed only went and had a kid with Geneviève, too; a closeted teen called Solomon (Talid Ariss).

What ensues is a Kafka-esque, domestic styled nightmare in which Mary’s memories of her marriage, and her very identity as a Muslim woman, are challenged.  Her loneliness abates somewhat, though, as she enjoys a tentative bond with Solomon after happening upon him getting off with a classmate, and also forges a cautious acquaintance with Geneviève (although this is not absolute - Khan is far too astute an anthropologist to allow the two women to be ‘friends’). It’s a zero-sum game though, with Mary simply compelled to insinuate herself in the existence of this small family through lack of knowing what else to do with the life which has been taken away from her. It is only a matter of time before Geneviève discovers the truth of this unusual British woman skulking around her house...

after love review

The great Scanlan, of course, offers a tour de force of emotional subtlety. She is both dignified and desperate, frightened and, at times, even funny (perhaps one of the most gifted comic performers in the game, the sight of her in a tabard just made me laugh - like, she had to go out and get one of these surcoats in order to wholly authenticate the ruse. Where would you shop to buy one?!). In one scene of astonishing intimacy, Mary examines her body in a full-length mirror, looking at her corpulent morphology with a male gaze; taking in the stretch lines and weight which (perhaps, as she will never truly know) made Geneviève a more attractive proposition. She strokes her breast in the same careful manner with which you would an injured bird. Moments like this, raw miracles of visual composition and bravura performance, are peppered throughout After Love. A truly cinematic experience.

After Love is in UK cinemas from June 4th.

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