Monday, June 07, 2021

After Love – double lives exposed once a husband enters the after life (QFT until Thursday 17 June)

As Mary (played by Joanna Scanlan) comes to terms with the recent sudden death of her seafaring husband and clears out Ahmed’s possessions, she discovers a large secret that was hidden under her marriage. Her desire to find out more takes her 21 miles across the English Channel to Calais and, through an unlikely but dramatically pleasing moment of serendipity, into the house of another family with links to her own.

Much is said, but very little of it has to be spoken in screenwriter/director Aleem Khan’s debut feature After Love. The details of the plot unravel slowly and without gratuitous shock. Mary’s duplicitous avoidance of confrontation allows the tension to build up – accompanied by visual manifestations of the cracks appearing in her backstory – until an eleventh-hour break. While the story could have satisfactorily stopped at this point of fracture, the subsequent ten-minute afterword injects healing, warmth – and a few tears – to the tale.

While Scanlan is renowned for comedic roles (No Offence, The Thick of It), her ponderous ability to provide space for the story to settle around her in a scene is both restful to watch and testament to her talent. Her whole body weeps uncontrollably at one point, exuding her distress.

Khan gives his central character Mary the opportunity to be normal amidst a sea of abnormal circumstances. What was the last film that allowed a character to boil the kettle and make a cup of tea without jump cutting its way through the process to speed up the action. When was the last time you heard a Muslim woman pray on-screen?

The cross-channel counterpoint of mirrored and of family life and experience with some jarring differences is satisfying in its construction. The domestic setup of a French mother and son family allow Nathalie Richard to range from scepticism to rage, while Talid Ariss allows his conflicted character to open up to Mary’s empathetic conspiratorial gestures.

The mix of languages adds to privileged feeling of being a fly on the wall, understanding everything some on-screen characters remain in the dark. The portrayal of faith and a mixed-faith marriage is refreshingly uncomplicated. Ahmed’s faithful fervour in the UK turns out to be at odds with his behaviour in France. Yet Mary continues to find comfort in rituals – spiritual and secular – even as the ceiling of her marriage threatens to collapse on top of her memories.

After Love is a beautiful story of loss and gain, of sharing beyond the grave, and of the dual lives that are only a little more extreme than could be found in your street or even your house. Ninety minutes long, After Love is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 17 June.

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