The Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s “After Love” is an irritating movie about irritating people. The married Boris and Marie are breaking up but for economic reasons are still sharing the same living space (to which the entire movie is confined; good thing there’s an outdoor patio). They have lovely twin daughters in front of whom they mostly argue — vehemently and with little regard for how these displays will affect the girls. Money is an issue; Marie comes from affluence, while Boris, a contractor who refers to himself as an architect, rarely has any. He incessantly confronts Marie over the labor he’s put into their apartment.
Marie, a narrowly conceived character nevertheless played well by Bérénice Bejo, is uptight and withholding; Boris, by turns warmly bearish and broadly truculent as played by Cédric Kahn, is controlling and manipulative, not to mention aggressively self-pitying. When he responds sympathetically to Marie’s vulnerability, it’s hard to tell if he is being sincere in his affection, or just exploiting a weakness. (Marthe Keller makes a welcome contribution as Marie’s mother, whose voice-of-experience advice to her daughter falls on willfully deaf ears.)
Not unlike an expensively tattooed panhandler, the couple elicit only a skeptical kind of sympathy. The American filmmaker John Cassavetes was able to make this kind of hate-love-hate scenario compulsively watchable (in movies like “A Woman Under the Influence”), partly because he made his characters operatically brash, their actions relentlessly emotionally combustible. “After Love,” written by Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino and Mr. Lafosse, and originally titled the less evocative but frankly more apt “L’économie du couple,” is too polite by half ever to generate any such sparks.
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