Director: Joachim Lafosse
Written by: Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino, Joachim Lafosse
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Jade Soentjens, Margaux Soentgens
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, July 27, 2017
Opens: August 9, 2017
Freud said that the meaning of life, indeed the secret of happiness, lies in two words: a) Love, b) Work. Those of us who can find both will enjoy life and solve its meaning, though the question has intrigued philosophers since Aristotle. In “After Love,” Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, whose “Private Property” featuring Isabelle Huppert is a family drama like his current offering, and whose “Our Children” focuses on the unhealthy dependence a couple has on a doctor, stays with what he knows. “After Life” is like a Belgian “Kramer vs. Kramer,” but unlike the more Hollywood-inspired “The War of the Roses,” melodrama takes a back bench to verbal skirmishes and occasional yelling.
The big question that Lafosse and his writers Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino and Joachim Lafosse serve to keep our interest is : Why would two people who once loved each other and who now suffer with an indefinite round of arguments stay together? Could it be that they still retain enough passion to keep them together albeit uncomfortably? Or could is all be a matter of money? Most of the time Lafosse leans toward the latter answer while at the same time throwing us evidence that there is enough passion to keep them together.
Marie Barrault (Bérénice Bejo) has inherited their house and brings home a paycheck while her husband Boris Marker (Cédric Kahn) is an occasional handyman who claims territorial rights for renovating their digs. He cannot afford to move out. He needs Marie to pay him half of whatever the house brings in, while she argues that she has been supporting him throughout their lives together.
The drama is complicated, as marital discord always is, by the presence of children. Their two young daughters, Jade Marker (Jade Soentjens) and Margaux Marker (Margaux Soentjens), are disturbed by the constant arguments, which include battles between their parents for custody rights. In one surprising scene, the girls get up and dance, and for her part Marie joins the party. She becomes emotional while embracing her husband, and they wind up together in bed. This makes us in the audience wonder whether we’re in for a Hollywood ending, but given the extreme tension felt by the couple and their guests at a dinner which Boris crashes, we can’t help thinking that sticking it out would be a mistake.
Christine (Marthe Keller), in the role of Marie’s mother, rankles her daughter when she gives the usual advice of the old-timers toward married children: which is that in the long run, “friendship replaces desire.” The problem here is that the friendship is dead as well as the passion. There we have it. Donald Trump was partially right when in March 2016, after a terrorist attack, he said that “Brussels is a hellhole,” but he should have confined his judgment to the goings-on in Marie and Boris’s home.
This is not a film for those who insist on seeing fighting couples swing on the chandeliers like Oliver and Barbara Rose, but is rather an authentic look at a single family whose problems will doubtless find married people everywhere identifying. If we want to learn more about what makes the world tick, don’t bother all that much with “Spiderman” and “Wonder Woman.” Narrative films like this one are generally more effective than documentaries for reaching into our emotions, allowing us to recognize ourselves in the characters we see on the screen.
Unrated. 100 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+