L’ECONOMIE DU COUPLE (AFTER LOVE) (France 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Joachim Lafosse
Those that know Cédric Kahn will definitely remember his excellent 2004 directed suspense drama FEUX ROUGE (RED LIGHTS) which he also co-wrote. The story concerns the marriage breakdown of a mediocre salesman Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his attractive, successful and increasingly aloof wife, Hélène (Carole Bouquet), as they are en route to pick up their daughter from camp, bickering as usual. The broken relationship is seen from the backdrop of her sudden disappearance when she decides to take the train.
Kahn leaves the director’s chair to play the husband in this equally absorbing broken marriage story of Boris (Cédric Kahn) and Marie (Bérénice Bejo). Though the background is different, both films have similarities and are both equally a difficult watch. The couples have seen their love gone sour and both try to give it a second chance. In this film, the couple have decided to separate after 15 years together. They have two girls that they adore, but tensions rise as cash-strapped Boris continues to live in the family home. Neither of the two is willing to compromise, making their apartment a war zone.
Sexual and emotional tensions remain high. An example is when the Boris accidentally enters the bathroom while Marie is having a bath. He claims that he did not see her inside and just getting his toothbrush. When she is angry he replies that he has seen her naked before. These are words and incidents that will eventually happen, regardless whether by a accident or not and will always lead to confrontation and uneasiness. The scene is done from the point of view of Marie, the camera focused on her expressions while she lies in the bath when the dialogue goes on between the couple.
Lafosse takes no sides. The audience sees the irrationality of both the husband and wife and how emotions blur their better judgement. At one point, they scream uncontrollably in front of their two daughters. The scene in which they both eventually sit down as a family and the parents promise their daughters never to shout at each other is a touching one.
One would imagine that watching a film on this topic be a brutal one. Surprisingly it is not, because Lafosse makes what appears on screen incredibly real than theatrically brutal. The sensitive and humanistic sides are also shown.
Kahn and Bejo, especially are excellent in their roles.
But all is not hate. In one sensitive and brilliant moment, Lafosse demonstrates that the love the couple once felt for each other was present in the past and not forgotten. “I did really love him” says Marie to her friends one evening party before Boris shows up and creates emotional havoc. The one unexpected visit by Marie turns out to be an evening of family warmth with the father and two daughters dancing together, edged on by the mother.
Lafosse leads his remarkable AFTER LOVE to its obvious ending as Boris and Marie eventually separate but for the better.