Friday, 04 November 2016

After Love

Exploring a marriage’s bitter end, this drama is raw and real – albeit not for everyone

Written by Jason Solomons

Unusually, the French title of this French/Belgian film is far less romantic: L’economie Du Couple. That might sound sexy, but it brings home the nitty-gritty of the movie – an inventory of a failing marriage.

‘Why should I see that?’ I hear you cry. Well, all I can say is every time I get to the TV planner I notice we’ve recorded more of something called Divorce, or The Affair. These are my wife’s favourites. Should I be worried?

This isn’t an agony column, so I’ll just say (hopefully) that sometimes we watch things in fiction so we don’t have to go through them in real life.

In After Love, we watch the beautiful Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) all on edge. As Marie, she’s frazzled, trying to work, sort out the kids (enfants adorables, played by real-life sisters Jade and Margaux Soentjens), cook and do the laundry. I think the message is, even gorgeous French women can get cranky. And stay thin.Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

Then we realise why. Still living in the flat is Marie’s bear of a husband, Boris. He turns up early, which makes Marie clank about even more at the washing up. ‘You have your days and I have mine,’ she smiles between teeth, so the children think everything’s just fine. You could cut the tension with one of their knives.

Marie and Boris are splitting up after 15 years of marriage. Maybe one of them has been unfaithful; it’s not said. He’s been consigned to the sofa, but he still lives in the flat they bought and in which they’ve raised these poppets. The film hardly leaves the flat, director Joachim Lafosse’s camera gliding around the place like Woody Allen used to in the New York apartments of his 1980s dramas.

Luckily for us, this is a smashing property: a former workshop Marie and Boris have done up, with lovely doors and a darling walled front yard. And you should see what Marie’s done with the inside – what an eye.

Of course, the point is, whose place is this now? It has been the couple’s home, their space. Boris did the knocking-through and the fixtures, the plumbing. He’s a builder (that’s what she calls him; he says he’s an architect), but it was her money (or, as Boris likes to remind her, her mum’s) that funded the works.

So it becomes a film about the minutiae of life seeping into the cracks of a relationship, gnawing away at what was once a love story.

At times, Bejo’s neurotic, stabbing glances get too much. But she now hates Boris, the way he eats, texts, stands. How terrible. And poor Boris seems OK – a bit hairy, a bit rubbish with money, but loving to the kids and charming enough to Marie’s opinionated mother (played by the great Marthe Keller). ‘We used to fix things,’ she opines. ‘Socks, fridges, marriage. But now, as soon as there’s the slightest problem, you just throw them away and get a new one.’

If it’s too tedious and tasteful, I get that. You can’t get more bourgeois than this, and as for the arguments over laundry etc, as they say, you probably get enough of that at home.

The final act has a lurch into melodrama, but there are also two great scenes. One is the dinner party from hell, where Marie’s got some friends over when Boris comes home. She says he’s not invited, but the friends ask him to at least have a glass of wine. And some cheese. It’s agony, as he scoffs the brie and demands to know what they’ve all been talking about. Still, nobody gets up before Marie serves her gâteau au chocolat, which she cuts like she’s sawing off limbs from a cadaver – and no, Boris, you still can’t have a slice.

The other scene is practically silent, when the little girls try to do something about the bickering and turn on some music. They do a little dance (‘une rockeographie’) and eventually Boris and even Marie join in. And suddenly we get a glimpse at how nice it all once must have been.

Evaluating a relationship like this is depressing, yes, but this is so well acted it feels honest and true, and you feel as sad as when real friends are splitting up. And at the least, it’s worth watching for interior-decor tips.

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