BFI LFF 2020

After Love review – a quiet drama that strains credibility

Joanna Scanlan plays a grieving widow who learns that her husband was having an affair in this frustrating debut from Aleem Khan

After Love starts with a death so sudden and understated that you almost miss it when it happens. Middle-aged couple Mary (who also goes by her Muslim name of Fahima, played by Joanna Scanlan) and Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia) return to their Dover home after a baby shower in the midst of a funny, loving conversation, before Ahmed goes to sit down while Mary puts the kettle on. By the time Mary has brought Ahmed his tea, he’s passed away in his chair. It’s a wonderfully constructed scene, subtle and believable in a way that the rest of the film is, unfortunately, not.

After Ahmed’s funeral, Mary goes through his things, finding a driving license for Genevieve (Nathalie Richard), a French woman in Calais with whom, it transpires, Ahmed had been having an affair for decades. It’s a potent premise of a marital betrayal lying just 20 miles across the sea, and Scanlan plays these discoveries skilfully, balancing shock and anger and the still very raw loss of the man she thought she knew.

Soon after, though, first-time writer-director Aleem Khan’s story starts to feel a lot shakier. Going to Calais for answers, Mary is instead mistaken by Genevieve for her cleaner, and invited in to help tidy up her home before she moves. The speed with which Mary accepts this state of affairs, returning on a weekly basis to continue cleaning, really doesn’t ring true, and Mary’s skirting around the issues of both the affair and the fact that Ahmed is dead (which Genevieve doesn’t know) just becomes annoying. A reckoning is inevitable, but it takes too long to arrive, giving the impression of a film stuck spinning its wheels.

It’s a shame, as Khan conjures a lot of striking smaller moments throughout, from the powerful imagery at play at Ahmed’s funeral to a small breakdown from Mary when she realises she’s made a second cup of tea purely by instinct. These scenes find very honest feeling and put the minutiae of grief on screen, which is always difficult to do, though they’re let down badly by the story as a whole. There’s potential on display in After Love, both for the film itself and for whatever comes next for Khan, but the end result is an aggravating disappointment.

After Love was screened as part of the BFI Film Festival 2020. Find out more and get showtimes here.

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