FILM REVIEW: After Love (L’économie du couple)

“When love breaks down, the things you do, to stop the truth from hurting you…” a certain wise someone, somewhere did once propound.
Paddy McAloon’s astute observations of the inevitability of our actions in the face of dying love have always struck a chord with me, even more so once I’d experienced this particular brand of ‘character-building’ misery for myself.
The things we do, hey? The coping strategies that we concoct – just enough to hold it all together, to stay afloat during troubled times.
Marie Barrault (Bérénice Bejo), and Boris Marker (Cédric Kahn) – both excellent – have been married for fifteen years, but find themselves on the verge of divorce. Marie can no longer stand the sight of Boris, and Boris cannot afford to leave the apartment that they share together with their twin daughters, Jade and Margaux (Jade and Margaux Soentjens).
Even leaving custody of the children aside for a moment, the couple’s situation is something of a mess. Boris won’t leave unless Marie gives him half of the value of the apartment, something that Marie deems to be wholly unfair as it was she that actually bought the apartment in the first place. Boris however counters this argument with the fact that it’s only down to his professional renovation work on said apartment that its value has increased so substantially ever since.
But such niggling technicalities overlook an important factor in all of this; Boris doesn’t want to leave. Boris still loves Marie.
After Love throws up many a painfully tense and frequently awkward scenario as the couple attempt (and largely fail), to somehow co-exist, leading separate lives within the same claustrophobic space, under the same roof.
You might be forgiven for thinking that, from such a plot summary, After Love is in some way a film along the lines of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, full of amusingly awkward moments, combative set pieces, and dark comedy, bordering on bathos.
It isn’t. It’s a million miles from that.
Whereas many a director may navigate their way through a film’s downbeat, contemplative content by injecting moments of levity into it, with which to ease the tension, Joachim Lafosse makes no such concessions. Instead, short of us getting up and leaving, he gives his audience absolutely nowhere to hide, intent it would seem upon putting us all through the same, at times excruciating levels of discomfort as the warring couple.
After Love is not however without moments of tenderness, particularly when centring around the couple’s mutual adoration of their children, whose innocence and joie de vivre threatens, briefly at least, to offer some hope of reconciliation. There is however no escaping the bottom line. Boris’ once persuasive charm has now worn thin. He, to Marie, is not only now a grating personality, but more critically, a partner that she is reluctant to trust with their children. Time and again, Boris’ laissez-faire attitude to the nuts and bolts responsibilities of parenting has proved to be to the detriment of the twins, and whilst far from being his sole trying characteristic, it is the fundamental reason why, in Marie’s eyes, their marriage will always be beyond salvageable.
Indeed, one final scenario, during which the kids are once again under the sole supervision of their inattentive father, so nearly ends in tragedy, and thus the tipping point is finally reached.
Sometimes it’s only when confronted by and admitting to the jarring, irrefutable evidence of the unworkability of a situation, that we are finally able to let go and admit defeat.
After Love is a rather dispiriting and mournful piece with only the most fleeting moments of lightheartedness to cling to, and whilst not entirely centred around the welfare of the twins, there are occasional parallels to be drawn – both in mood and content – with Robert Benton’s highly emotional, Kramer vs Kramer. No bad thing at all. Above all though, it’s a superbly-realised meditation on troubled times.
With fine performances across the board, and enhanced by occasional sprinklings of J.S.Bach’s bitter-sweet Prelude in B Minor, it is perhaps unfair to label this, Joachim Lafosse’s lament, as depressing, and I certainly don’t use such a term lightly or with any particular negative connotations, but After Love is bold and unafraid to confront the harsh realities of the strength-sapping death throws of love, and the debilitating affect that they inevitably have on all those involved.
Hard going? Without a doubt; but all the more rewarding an experience for being so.

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