After Love takes us on a touching journey of loss, with a career turning performance from Joanna Scanlan. A feature debut from Aleem Khan that shows us a talented filmmaker who will be one to watch.
When Ahmed Hussain passes away suddenly in his Dover home, his loyal wife Mary (Joanna Scanlan) has to pick up the devastating pieces, remaining strong for friends and family in her community the days after the funeral she discovers items belonging to Ahmed that take her on an unwelcome journey across the English Channel to Calais.
Jolting the audience with its soul-destroying opening After Love lets you know right away that it will be taking no prisoners with your emotions for the next 90 minutes. Still mourning the loss of her beloved husband, Mary or Fahima (her Muslim name after she converted to Islam to marry Ahmed) jumps to escape the world of her late husband, with the memories too much to bear for right now. With just a suitcase and his phone, she ventures to France to discover the truth.
Under the guise of being a cleaner for the person on the other end of the mysterious messages from her husband’s phone Mary begins to learn more about this woman and her son to a devastating conclusion. While so much of After Love works, it is a little difficult to get over the idea that Mary would take on this role and then keep returning to learn more and keep the façade that she is a cleaner. Still, if you can get over that conceit, it becomes such a rewarding experience thanks to Khans understated and moving script.
Scanlan provides a remarkable performance of a woman betrayed by a man she would have done anything for. Your heart cannot help but ache for her at every turn, every new bit of information discovered. Her facial demeanour is vacant in the first act. Still, in shock of the sudden loss, she seems lost and truly alone, even when her community is around her. Loss does that and it is perfectly encapsulated here by Khan and Scanlan.
As the film goes on, her restraint earlier in the film begins to fade, grief takes time to come over you. Though here it is more than grief for the man she knew, it is for the man she didn’t and how he failed her as a husband, culminating in her breakdown as she prays. This opening up of her emotions get the better of her until that beautiful moment at the end of the film. She is suffering and for so many more reasons than she could have previously thought after that opening sequence. This is a performance to remember and should be the catalyst to her getting more prominent roles.
Some decisions throughout After Love are hard to take, but with a step back, they make sense narratively. Mary sees the pain Solomon is going through. Coping with life with an absent father, not knowing he will be absent from him forever. Mary foolishly tries to assist, but in the end, this does more trouble than good. This is a sensitive picture with characters making choices for others, even if they are detrimental long term. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and our three protagonists are good people.
This is shown by the fact that neither Mary nor Geneviève, attack or bite at one another when the truth is revealed and the dust has settled. Both loved who they thought was their man, neither knew of the other, but jealousy and sorrow remain. Mary comparing herself to Geneviève when she gazes at herself in a mirror in a poignant moment. She begins to doubt whether Ahmed ever loved her at all when she looks the opposite of her counterpart.
In a moving comparison, when Mary is cleaning Geneviève and Solomon’s home. She takes some of Ahmed’s shirts and smells them, weeping into them for a brief second. This is echoed by Geneviève later on in the film. It is clever writing from Khan and shows how in tune with his characters and story he is.
Khan has worked marvels here, this is a hauntingly sensitive film that could have gone down a line that would not have worked out nearly as well as the final product we have here. He has taken this tragic story and carefully chosen the right path for us, and while the finale is a little by the numbers. For this story and these performances, it is the right choice.
Khan will be one to watch in the upcoming years as his ability to work in little details throughout his script. This allows the audience to soak it in without being hit over the head with it.
There are little moments littered throughout After Love that does not need expanding, but provide greater scope to the entire picture, a photograph, a shirt. These small thoughtful moments show us of a filmmaker who trusts his audience and is confident enough in himself to let us figure it out. A reminder that this is Aleem Khan’s debut feature, and what a debut it is.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!