Film Review: After Love (2020)

A sensational performance by Joanna Scanlan anchors the waves of grief in Aleem Khan’s brilliant debut film After Love

“We all break the rules we set for ourselves in the end”

Mary’s world is turned upside down when her husband dies. Having converted to Islam to marry cross-Channel ferry captain Ahmed in Dover decades ago, she’s been used to his long absences but even in the bosom of his Urdu-speaking family’s grief rituals, her loneliness feels absolute. Her world is rocked even further though when she discovers a secret phone and a French ID card, suggesting that more was going on in his time away than she ever imagined.  

Such is the set up for Aleem Khan’s gorgeous debut film After Love. From there, we follow Mary over the Channel to Calais in search of answers, meeting Geneviève and Solomon and desperately insinuating herself into their lives. And from this rather unique position in their household, she starts to peel back the layers, not only of the husband whom she thought she knew, but also of her own identity, one so radically changed but now so fundamentally shaken by her discoveries.

Joanna Scanlan may be best known for her comedic roles but she delivers a superb performance as Mary here, so much of it without words as so often she is unable to react openly. The faintest flicker across her face, a subtle shift in her stance, but worlds crumbling within her eyes, there’s something agonizing about the way her grief aches and how she clutches onto it in her strange self-imposed exile, unsure if and how to drop her own bombshell of a revelation.

She is contrasted beautifully by Nathalie Richard’s freely expressive turn as Geneviève and the thoughtful turbulence of Talid Ariss’ Solomon, a teenager facing his own dilemmas. And Khan and cinematographer Alexander Dynan explore a beautiful path through the film’s visual language, key images echoing throughout as what must be confronted is finally met head on. Deeply moving and so sensitively felt, After Love is a filmic highlight of the year.  

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