After Love: How marriage dies

B- relationship drama
Written by Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino, and Joachim Lafosse
Directed by Joachim Lafosse

The French divorce drama After Love feels very true to life. It reminded me of actual marriages I’ve seen fall apart. It captures the arguments, the money problems, and the parenting issues to the letter. But that, in and of itself, doesn’t make it great cinema.

This is a very difficult film to watch. You can’t really enjoy the spectacle of a wife who hates her husband and a husband who fruitlessly hopes to patch things up. There are no lessons and little catharsis. It’s a very gloomy story.

And to make everything worse, the couple have adorable twin girls, and you know that they’re going to suffer the most. It’s not good when Mommy and Daddy yell at each other.

When we first meet Marie (Bérénice Bejo), she’s stressed and unhappy. She becomes even less happy when her husband Boris (Cédric Kahn) shows up. It’s a Wednesday, and that means he’s not supposed to come home until the kids are asleep. They have a schedule about this sort of thing.

They’re not quite divorced, with each parent getting the kids on certain days of the week. But they still live in the same apartment. Boris can’t afford to move out. And besides, he seems to be hoping Marie will fall back in love with him and everything will be okay.

Bejo, who also starred in The Artist and The Past, lets us experience Marie’s layers of anger, confusion, parental concern, exhaustion, and contempt. Early on, she comes off as bossy and grating. Boris, on the other hand, is a likeable, easygoing guy who really loves his kids.

But the more you get to know Boris, the more you’re on Marie’s side. He’s broke, and apparently not looking for work. He’s unreliable. He owes money to gangsters. He’s almost completely in denial about the state of his marriage. He walks into the bathroom while Marie is in the tub, and excuses himself with “I’ve see you naked.”

Money plays an important part in After Love. The couple’s one primary asset is a very nice apartment with a beautiful front garden. How can they split it? Marie’s father helped cover the down payment, but Boris has put in considerable sweat equity. And he needs money.

The film provides one happy sequence, when the family play games and then dance together. For a moment, you can see that Marie still carries some love for Boris.

After Love often suffers from a lack of structure. The gangster subplot doesn’t work. And near the end, something really bad happens, for no reason than to create a climax.

The film is often powerful and realistic. It captures a drama that’s been a part of many of our lives. But it’s sometimes forced. And it’s almost always depressing.