Writer and director Aleem Khan makes an impressive feature debut in After Love, a drama about long-held secrets and lies set in the British port town of Dover. A woman discovers a shocking element about her husband’s life following his death that threatens to turn her world upside down. Joanna Scanlan is being hailed by critics for her work on the drama, described by Screen International as “a phenomenal performance".

  • Year: 2020
  • Runtime: 89 minutes
  • Language: English, French, Arabic, Urdu
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Director: Aleem Khan
  • Cast: Joanna Scanlan, Nasser Memarzia, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss

Review by Conor Ryan

After Love is a tale of two women, two separate lives, crashing and colliding thanks to a thoughtless affair…

Mary (Joanna Scanlan) tries to persevere after her husband Ahmed’s sudden death but her world is turned upside down after she discovers that he had started another family across the English Channel, in France. She takes a job from Ahmed’s mistress Genevieve (Nathalie Richard), working undercover as a cleaner and cautiously observing Solomon (Talid Ariss), the son she never had. As Mary uncovers the painful truth, she hurtles towards a seemingly inevitable confrontation.

This is an effective and captivating character study, led by a powerhouse performance from Scanlan. The film is amiably grounded and meditative, its neorealist approach sparking off a contemplative mood which never becomes reductive. The story unfolds very slowly, a stable camera capturing remarkably still scenes. The first act is particularly quiet, drawing us into our protagonist’s suffering and establishing key plot points. However, the director (Aleem Khan) is careful not to overindulge in any stern-faced stoicism, which can often feel inappropriate for even the most solemn and tragic of subjects.

Tightly plotted and self contained, After Love succeeds in telling a heart-wrenching story with only four main characters, one of whom is absent for the majority of the movie. Firmly planted in Mary’s mournful mindset, we become suspicious voyeurs in a mysterious household. Ultimately, the feature emerges as an exploration of love and loss, a thematic deep-dive and a satisfying vehicle for its lead performers.

_

_

Review by Aoife Anderson

Opening with the whistle of a steaming kettle, After Love encapsulates the undefined intricacies of commitment, dependency and matrimony.

In the scalding first moments of Aleem Khan’s feature debut, we are blistered with the death of Mary’s (Joana Scanlan) husband Ahmed. Exposed to such despair and fragility, one follows the journey of Mary as she uncovers the truths of her husband's life and the secrets which it keeps.

With the unravelling of infidelity, the film captures distrust and the manifestations it takes once the person you seek to confront no longer exists. A carefully constructed narrative set between the city of Dover and Calais, a distance separated by the narrow arm of the Atlantic Ocean poignantly captures a geographical gap and incessant need to stitch them closer together. Joana Scanlan’s performance of grief stunningly captures all which this story has to offer. After Love is a living breathing expression of intimacy.

_

_

Podcast Chat Review by Colum, Phoebe and Aoife

_

_

Review by Lauren Cullen

Quiet, contemplative and heartfelt are the words of the day when thinking about Aleen Khan's stunningly simple drama “After Love”. A story about complex grief, forgiveness and the bridging of cultures. After Love is brimming with the standout performance from Joanna Scanlon who plays Mary. At the very beginning of the film, Mary’s husband, Ahmed dies suddenly and she is left to pick up the pieces of his life. As Mary grieves, the film makes excellent use of piercing silence, honing in on Mary's thoughts and Scanlon’s haunting facial expressions. As Mary goes through her husband's things , she finds texts from Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) Ahmed’s French mistress who lives across the channel where Ahmed used to sail ferries back and forth from.

The heart of After Love really comes to light when Mary poses as a cleaner in Genevieve's house to get to know her and she meets Ahmed's son, Solomon played by talented youngster Talid Ariss. It is extremely interesting to see a film depict the experience of a woman who has converted to Islam in marraige to her husband. The contrast between Mary’s quiet and loyal life and Genieveve’s carefree lifestyle is palpable in the piece at all times. We want the two women to understand each other and undo the wrongs of Ahmed for the sake of Soloman.

The conflict of After Love works on two levels, the cultural differences between Mary and Genevieve, as well as the knowledge of Ahmed’s affair. One is on their toes at all times waiting for Mary to tell all and for them both to realise they have more in common than they think. All of these elements are underlined by a sparse but hauntingly beautiful score by Chris Roe that elevates the emotion in the piece.

Mary is captivating throughout the film, it's easy to see inside her head without her saying much, for example, there are some gorgeous moments in the film where Mary puts on Genevieve's makeup, or inspects her own body, these moments launch us into Mary’s conflicted mindset. Having said this, there are moments that come across as surreal, such as the crack appearing on the ceiling as Mary lies in Genevieve’s room that went slightly too far away from the quiet and meditative nature that’s so strong in the rest of the film.

There is so much metaphorical bridging the gap here, every moment is incredibly well paced and thought out. After Love builds to an unforgettable and emotional ending that makes the story whole. One can forgive one or two jarring moments upon seeing the ending. Khan is extremely clever in how he has restricted this film to limited locations and essential moments as it sucks the viewer into Mary's world and emphasises that bridge her and Geneieve must cross over the sea of problems left by Ahmed in order for Soloman to thrive. A captivating story through and through.

_

_

Review by Shane Joyce

Aleem Khan’s quiet, visually driven feature debut is a fantastic display of cinematic language.

Simply beautiful and beautifully simple, Aleem Khan’s debut creates a viscerally real grieving atmosphere and elicits an evocative depth from his characters. His story follows Mary Hussain (played spectacularly by Joanna Scanlan) who after the death of her husband discovers that he was in a relationship with another woman. She then travels to France to discover her husband’s secrets. Though the premise suggests “After Love” might be an overly melancholic drama the deft execution of the film ensures that it remains an elegantly subtle and immersive experience.

Once in France Mary finds the home of her counter-part Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) and is mistaken for a cleaner to help her move house. Mary plays along, and finds herself becoming immersed in the household. While Genevieve is entirely unaware of her partner’s death and who Mary is, Mary struggles to come to terms with the situation, and the fact that her husband has had a child 16 years ago with Genevieve. This creates a dynamic between the pair that is remarkably well handled by the director.

While Khan, who also wrote the screenplay, rushes to get this exposition established and it can feel forced, once in place the film is given room to breathe and can fully engross us within Mary’s headspace. Her grief is omnipresent throughout the film and is arguably the central theme however its themes of jealousy and motherhood come to the fore to be the most interesting.

There are various stages through the film where we have scenes that mirror an earlier scene. This repetition and how it is filmed subtly reminds of how deeply connected the characters are despite being new to another. The framing of these scenes also offers a sense of introspection that is incredibly hard to portray on scene without narration or other verbal exposition.

And it is within these mirroring scenes where we get a full understanding of the jealousy and preconceived prejudices that Mary and Genevieve might have had for each other. The choice to visually depict this as well as the feminine lens that these scenes are viewed under - be it in the comparison of vanity tables or stretch marks - is excellently executed. Aleem Khan brings a nuance and delicacy to this depiction that is rarely seen from a male director.

Motherhood and what it means to be a mother is a theme showcased in the film which I was not expecting but has also stayed with me since watching the film. Mary finds herself growing emotionally attached to Solomon (Talid Ariss), the teenage son of her late husband and Genevieve. As the film progresses, she makes several morally grey decisions revolving around him and inadvertently oversteps boundaries with both him and Genevieve. The evolution of their relationship and dynamic over the course of the film is a highlight and an example of how much impact Aleem can draw from simple actions and effective film grammar.

The filmmaking on display is unobtrusive yet highly evocative. The performances feel deeply honest and are framed from a naturally objective perspective. Every character feels human and we feel everything they feel through the slow paced and visual heavy techniques used to inject the grieving atmosphere of the film, brought out by DoP Alexander Dynan and editor Gareth C.Scales. Technically and emotionally, this is an impressive and moving debut feature.

“After Love” is a highly compelling emotional story which makes you ask what a family is and what it can be.

_

_

Review by Benita Murinda

This alluring debut from writer/director Aleem Khan is set in the heart of Dover. It follows Mary( Joanna Scanlan) who discovers just days after her husband’s sudden death that he has been leading a double life just across the channel in Calais - a life that seems foreign to the one they had shared throughout their loving marriage, for that is what she believed it to be.

Mary (Joanna Scanlan) is a British Muslim convert who is happily married to Ahmed when we meet her. She is integrated into the Pakistani culture, prays five times a day, wears traditional Pakistani attire, decorates her home with framed Islamic scripture, and cooks aloo palak from scratch. It is important to salute the incredible performance given by Scanlan, as in the first few scenes of After Love there is little talking, leaving the viewer to rely solely on the facial expressions and mise en scene to help figure out the situation at hand.

The affair is discovered a day after Ahmed’s funeral. Mary is innocently going through Ahmed’s phone and discovers his secret family. Viewers are given the privilege of seeing the impact the affair has on Mary, witnessing her as she wrestles with a growing idea until she finally cracks: she travels across the channel on a quest to discover the truth and seek understanding.

A minimalist theme is consistent throughout the film. Khan has emphasized the importance of less is more. The silence at the beginning is almost haunting. The amazing choice of background sounds is essential in delivering the sentiment of seriousness and sadness. There is very little dialogue throughout, in fact, and obvious reliance on Joanna Scanlan’s facial expression to guide the way. Mary’s restraint is admirable and viewers are kept waiting throughout the film for her confrontation. Her love for and loyalty to her late husband are constantly on display.

Grief and its complexities are beautifully portrayed. It is seen manifesting itself in many ways. Joanna shows the viewers that grief is sadness, anger, and resentment and so much more as she ignores unwanted guests, ignoring phone calls, and finding solace in prayer and faith. Faith is compromised by the situation but Mary’s resilience and devotion are her guiding light.

A beautiful feature of the film is that it deals with so many themes and issues that are often the centerpiece of other films. The first one being Mary’s heritage. It is important to note that Mary is a white woman who has converted to Islam and had a secret relationship with her husband before converting. The second one is homosexuality. Mary catches her husband’s other son kissing another boy: usually, that would be the whole storyline for another film, but it’s just part of a story with the very human appeal, one which treats its characters as normal and not something to be sensationalized. This gives the characters an identity outside their religion and sexual orientation. One is not defined by that, and it’s an accurate depiction of the society we live in today by Khan, who also wrote the screenplay.

What is also so beautiful is the direction Khan has chosen for his film and its characters. There is delicate handling of each character. The sentiment of anger is not shared. There is a very human appeal. An example of this is Ahmed - viewers are given a loving portrayal of Ahmed. From a directorial perspective, there is no judgment placed.

Praise is also needed for the supporting cast as their portrayal is essential to the storyline but Scanlan’s performance is outstanding and carries the film. A seasoned actor, she has produced a skilled and haunting performance.

The final imagery of the White cliffs and Mary will haunt audiences. Aleem Khan is certainly breaking the barriers for filmmakers of color and it is beautiful to see stories of ethnic origin being portrayed accurately.

RATING 4.5/5