After Love (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Two women left behind

“After Love” is a simple but sensitive film about two different women who happen to be involved with each other via the man they both loved deeply. While calmly observing how one approaches the other without telling anything at all, the movie dryly but sensitively conveys to us the accumulating emotional undercurrents around them, and we come to care about both of them more as gradually understanding and empathizing with their complex personal feelings.

The movie opens with an unexpected happening which turns upside down the daily life of a middled-aged British Muslim woman named Mary Hussain (Joanna Scanlan). For many years, she has been married to a Pakistani guy who has worked as one the crew members of a ship routinely going back and forth between UK and France, and, as clearly shown from her traditional attire, she even converted to Islam for her husband around the time of their marriage. It looks like she and her husband have had a fairly good married life despite having no child between them, and we see her making some tea in the kitchen not long after they return to their home at one night, but then, alas, she belatedly discovers that her husband suddenly died while waiting for the tea in the living room.

While subsequently trying to deal with this sudden loss and the following grief of hers, Mary checks out her husband’s personal belongings for their old time’s sake, and then she finds something suspicious from her husband’s wallet. It is the identification card belonging to some French woman living in Calais, and Mary naturally becomes curious about this French woman whom her husband had never mentioned to her at all.

Shortly after she arrives in Calais, Mary goes to the residence of this French woman, and it does not take much time for her to gather what her husband was hiding from her behind his back. He actually had a longtime affair with this French woman for years, and, to Mary’s surprise, they even have a teenage son between them.

However, probably because of fear and embarrassment, Mary chooses not to tell anything to Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) when they happen to encounter each other at the front of Genevieve’s residence, and Genevieve simply assumes that Mary is a temporary helper sent to her residence. She is soon going to move to some new place as planned by her and her lover, so she has been pretty busy with preparing for that, while wondering why he still does not call her yet after leaving for UK several days ago.

While baffled about why her husband cheated on her for years, Mary finds herself getting involved more with Genevieve and her son Solomon (Talid Ariss). She helps Genevieve packing various stuffs in her residence, and she feels all the more conflicted as observing how important her husband was to Genevieve and Solomon. Although she was well aware from the beginning that her lover was a married man, Genevieve still loves him while being content with being his mistress, and, just like any other boy at his age, Solomon wants to be closer to his father even though his father was frequently absent throughout his childhood.

As Genevieve and Solomon keep waiting for any news from Mary’s husband, Mary is reminded more that she must do something about this increasingly difficult situation between her and them, but she still hesitates nonetheless while coping more with her complicated feelings toward her husband. She may feel betrayed as finding her husband’s stuffs here and there in Genevieve’s residence, but she is also saddened by not knowing or understanding her husband more before his untimely death, and she cannot help but delve more into Genevieve and Solomon’s life as days go by.

Around that narrative point, we can already discern where the story is heading, but the screenplay by director/writer Aleem Khan, which is partially inspired by his personal background (His mother is also a British Muslim convert just like his heroine, for example), patiently builds up its emotional momentum via small intimate moments of character development. While both Mary and Genevieve come to us as well-rounded and complex human figures along the story, the story also pays some attention to Solomon, and it is engaging to observe how these three main characters in the story interact with each other in one way or another.

Khan also draws the very good performances from his three main cast members. Joanna Scanlan, who deservedly received the BAFTA Best Actress award for this movie a few weeks ago, steadily anchors the film with her many quiet but emotionally palpable moments in the movie, and her excellent acting shines whenever she lets us sense more of her character’s life story. On the opposite, Nathalie Richard, a veteran French actress who has appeared in a number of various French films ranging from Olivier Assayas’ “Irma Vep” (1996) to Michael Haneke’s “Caché” (2005), effectively complements her co-star on the whole, and Talid Ariss holds his own small place well between Scanlan and Richard as another substantial part of the story.

In conclusion, “After Love” is a modest but powerful female drama which deserves more attention for its thoughtful direction and wonderful performances, and Khan, who previously made several short films, made a solid feature debut here. In short, this is one of more impressive films I saw during this year, and I think you really should check it out as soon as possible.

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