Friday, October 16, 2020

AFTER LOVE - BFI London Film Festival - Day 9

Aleem Khan's AFTER LOVE, is a deeply moving drama that is told with a controlled, spare austerity and visual style that is truly impressive in a debut feature.  The film stars the superb Joanna Scanlan as Fahima - a white English woman who converted to Islam when she married her husband many decades ago.  As the film opens we see a scene of normal and apparently happy domesticity before the husband quickly dies. Fahima discovers an ID card and mobile phone among her late husband's effects with messages from a woman - Genevieve - in Calais. It soon becomes clear that her husband had another family a mere 20 miles away across The Channel.  Fahima takes the decision to go and confront this woman, but in a very telling moment, she is mistaken for a cleaner, and in a state of shock, assumes that role and discovers more about the Calais family. 

So much is said and left unsaid about the immigrant experience in that assumption that she's a cleaner, and in setting the film in Calais.  Indeed, in the film as a whole, there is very little dialogue. Scanlon shows Fahima's reactions through her physical and facial acting.  There's also something extremely clean and disciplined and austere about how Khan chooses to show her journey. A great example is Fahima's journey across the Channel is a bus, which is shown with three rather elegant  scenes of her sitting in exactly the same place on the bus and on our screens, cut to show the passing of time.  Khan also has a beautiful way of capturing still tableaux and landscape. When he moves his camera, it is with slow and deliberate intent.

In the other roles Nathalie Richard is a great foil for Scanlon as Genevieve, but it's really Talid Ariss who steals the show in a role I won't name for spoilers.  Both contrast nicely with Scanlon's Fahima in their ease with expressing their emotions.  By contrast, there's a moment near the end of this film where Fahima embraces someone but pauses beforehand, unsure about whether she's going to allow herself this moment of emotional catharsis. It's as though she's been waiting all film to exhale.  The power of the moment is intense. 

AFTER LOVE has a running time of 89 minutes. The film played Toronto and London 2020. It does not yet have a commercial release date. 

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