The original French title of After Love is L’Economie du couple—“The Economy of the Couple”—which better indicates its focus. Just what caused Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and Boris (Cédric Kahn) to end their 15-year relationship, on that writer/director Joachim Lafosse never elaborates. Instead, their post-romance battles center around finances, and it is through their respective class positions and how they think about said positions that they are fleshed out as characters. Domestic dramas about separation typically only address money issues on the side, so getting a film that focuses on such issues is refreshing.
Marie comes from some wealth and her parents paid for their apartment; Boris is lower-class and did extensive renovations, increasing its value. Both in a tight budgetary spot, they’re forced to awkwardly share the space until they can settle on who gets what share of selling it, performing a convoluted routine to stay out of each other’s way as much as possible while still maintaining a healthy environment for their twin daughters.
Nearly all of After Love takes place within the confines of the ex-couple’s flat, and the story is built around the ebbing and rising in hostilities between them. At times, Bejo, Kahn and cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens’ camera work in tandem to produce a harrowing sense of domestic claustrophobia, as if they’re they’re trapped in a Gallic Albee hell. Marie is frequently the one forced to take initiative as a grownup, while Boris flails before the dire prospects facing him. They’re raw nerves fraying further open as they rub against one another.
The most interesting thing about the film may lie in the discussions it could spur, to see whose side various audience members come out on as Lafosse positions the viewer to have more sympathy for Marie, more pity for Boris. Each is equally capable of petty sniping and maneuvers, and it’s in such moments that the script (written by Lafosse, Fanny Burdino, Thomas Van Zuylen and Mazarine Pingeot) displays the most uncomfortably true-to-life touches.
Despite these sharp moments, there’s a frustrating looseness to Lafosse’s narrative, feeling as though many of After Love’s scenes could be rearranged without changing the film’s flow. In turn, a slackness undercuts the tension the film is otherwise trying to build. All the wheel-spinning may technically translate the situation the leads are in, but it doesn’t make for a consistently engaging experience. After Love is sometimes hard to watch—but that’s mostly because it’s boring.
Director: Joachim Lafosse
Writers: Joachim Lafosse, Fanny Burdino, Thomas Van Zuylen, Mazarine Pingeot
Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn
Release Date: August 9, 2017