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When love is no more, then what comes next?
Many artists down the years have crooned that breaking up is hard to do and cinema has forever shared a similarly morbid fascination with this particular hardship. Again returning to the everyday domesticity of family life, but with significantly less psychological brutality than his 2012 film Our Children, Belgian director Joachim Lafosse's latest feature, After Love, is an unrelentingly dour take on divorce and the agonisingly slow death rattle of what was once, presumably, a loving relationship.
Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and husband, Boris (Cédric Kahn), have been together for fifteen years and have charming twin girls (played with effortless naturalism by real life sisters Margaux and Jade Soentjens, who retain their first names in the film), but for reasons unknown are in the process of separating. For anyone who has been through similar circumstances, which given popular statistics constitutes more than 50% of adults, After Love will, in all likelihood, be uncomfortably raw viewing. The ambiguity of what has occurred before, leading to this fractious situation, may frustrate but it is of little significance when there are more practical obstacles to overcome. And doing so takes time. As such, the hour and forty minute runtime here is a gruelling, draining watch with little more than sporadic suggestions of positivity.
After Love, which takes place for the great majority within a single location, is a parlour – or rather 'apartement' - piece at its most claustrophobic and Lafosse conjures an oppressive, restrictive environment from the off in both atmosphere and setting. Cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens, who collaborated with the director on his previous film, uses still frames, long takes and a camera that pans from a singular location in the hallway to entrap characters and viewers alike within the four walls of a cramped apartment. The alternate blurring of each parent's face, in foreground and background, as they sit to calmly explain to their daughters what is occurring after a particularly vociferous slanging match, is an effective visual cue of two people irreconcilably on very different pages.
The film's French title, L'Economie du couple, refers more adroitly to the monetary stakes that must be hashed out when one household is split in two and warring factions fight for what they consider is their individual portion. Marie, from a rich bourgeois family but financially prudent and savvy, repeatedly butts head with the working class, and clearly unreliable Boris as to how they should divide up their accounts and as a result of his employment situation they are forced to co-habit until these decisions are made. "What does it mean to be rich?" he asks one of his daughters, hoping to elicit a response relating to friends, health and well-being. Her response - "having lots of money" - is sadly representative of how a relationship in such dire straits is broken down in purely numerical, practical terms.
Led by tremendous performances and technical accomplishment, After Love pulls no punches in showing a sadly integral part of many people's lives with unflinching, galling candour and is a very strong piece of realist filmmaking.