MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 20, 2023: AFTER LOVE

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Grieving widow Mary (Joanna Scanlan) is dismayed to discover that her late husband, Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), had a secret second life — and family — in writer/director Aleem Khan’s moving feature debut After Love. Anchored by the nuanced, authentic performances of Scanlan and co-star Nathalie Richard, the film explores the impact of grief and deception as it follows what happens when the two women in Ahmed’s life cross paths.

Mary, a white British woman living in Dover who converted to Islam for her marriage and embraces Ahmed’s family’s Pakistani culture and traditions, is left stunned and alone when her ferryboat captain spouse abruptly dies just before tea one afternoon. Ahmed had a large extended family, but in their house, it was just the two of them, and Mary doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. While going through Ahmed’s things, she finds items and text messages that suggest he was having an affair with a woman on the other end of his ferry route in Calais. She impulsively sets out to learn more and finds herself face to face with Geneviève (Richard), a sophisticated French woman who — to Mary’s intense shock — is the mother of Ahmed’s adolescent son, Solomon (Talid Ariss).

Mary has practiced what she wants to say to Geneviève, but words escape her when they actually meet, and Geneviève mistakes her for a domestic worker who’s there to help pack up the household ahead of an impending move. Driven by her need to learn as much as she can about who Ahmed was when he was in Calais with these people — and what that means about his relationship with her and her identity as his wife — Mary goes along with the assumption. Soon, the two women are sharing personal details, and Mary builds a tentative connection with angsty Solomon, whom she starts to see as the son she never had.

It’s an untenable situation, but Scanlan inspires nothing but empathy as she wrestles with Mary’s desire to know these other people whom Ahmed loved and understand why he needed them when he already had her. She and Richard work well together, especially in the movie’s climactic scenes and their poignant aftermath. Khan displays notable sensitivity in his screenplay and direction, supporting his actors and giving them the space they need to build memorable, believable characters.– Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: Grief and the discovery of a husband’s betrayal drive a widow to extreme behavior in this compelling drama from first-time feature writer/director Aleem Khan. Married to Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), a ferry captain who traverses the English Channel between Dover and Calais, Mary (Joanna Scanlan) went so far as to convert to Islam in her devotion to her husband. It has been a long, happy marriage – or so she thought. But when Ahmed dies suddenly, Mary gets a further shock in the realization that she knew her spouse not at all. She travels to Calais, meaning to confront Genevieve (Nathalie Richard), the other woman in Ahmed’s life but when Genevieve mistakes her for someone else, Mary takes advantage to become a fly on the wall in the lives of the other woman and her son Solomon (Talid Ariss). Both a melodrama and a kind of low-key domestic thriller, After Love engenders a great deal of suspense from this subtle home invasion even as Khan builds a layered portrait of someone thrust into a kind of no man’s land. Mary has suffered a double blow – the physical loss of Ahmed and the knowledge that her happy marriage was built on a tissue of lies. No wonder she imagines Dover’s white cliffs crumbling to dust – the fantasy reflects what’s become of her life. Scanlan reveals the very soul of this woman in a performance that is nothing short of devastating.

Loren King Duality, secrecy and mystery are beautifully woven through this textured debut feature from English-Pakistani filmmaker Aleem Khan. A portrait of a marriage, with years of secrets and lies, is layered with clashes of identity and culture in Britain and France. After Love is anchored by an unforgettable performance from Joanna Scanlan as Mary, an unassuming British woman and practicing Muslim who converted when she married Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), a ferry captain whose regular route shuttles between the Dover cliffs and Calais., Read full review.

Leslie Combemale Lead Joanne Scanlan won a BAFTA award for her performance as Mary, and for good reason. The film has limited dialogue, so Scanlan relates elements of the story, from her grief, to her anger, compassion, and confusion through her physicality. She does that with such subtlety that she creates empathy for Mary from the audience, regardless of how challenging what she is doing or feeling might be on the surface. It’s interesting that writer/director Khan chose her in part because she reminded him of his mother, who apparently came onto the set to teach Scanlan how to authentically prepare a regional Pakistani dish. That kind of care and specificity makes all the difference in what we see onscreen.

Marilyn Ferdinand In a black-and-white moral universe, Mary Hussein (Joanna Scanlan) can do no wrong in confronting her husband’s mistress (Nathalie Richard), whose existence becomes known to her after his sudden death. But real life exists beyond the pale of moral rectitude, and it is in this grey zone that director Aleem Khan locates his first feature film, After Love. Mary, a convert to Islam, pursues evidence of her husband’s affair and comes face to face with his lover and the son (Talid Ariss) they had together. Instead of the violent recriminations one normally expects from the discovery of a betrayal of this magnitude, Khan, who also wrote the screenplay, charts a different path—one of curiosity and shared mourning. Scanlan is exquisite as the cuckolded wife who finds understanding amid the hurt and compassion for the hidden family that has suffered an equally profound loss. The wisdom of After Love is not only unexpected, but also deeply moving.

Nell Minow: Joanna Scanlan is a revelation as a woman whose grief is derailed by the discovery of a betrayal. Beautifully composed images illuminate the themes of reflection and connections that transcend boundaries.

Jennifer Merin British first-time director Aleem Kahn’s multi-award winning drama. After Love, is about two women — one English, the other French — who have unknowingly shared their lives with one man — Pakistani ferry boat captain Ahmed — but never knew about each other until his death. The film opens with the sudden death of Ahmed in the Dover home he shares with Mary (Joanna Scanlan), his English wife, just as she is about to serve his afternoon tea. While going through Ahmed’s belongings, Mary finds evidence that he has another home and family — a French woman, Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) and their tweenage son, Solomon — who live across the channel in a French seaside town. Mary, who converted to Islam when she married Ahmed, has adopted Pakistani ways. She is compelled to travels to France to find out about her husband’s secret life. When Mary rings the other woman’s doorbell, Genevieve mistakes her for a new cleaning lady and puts her to work. Hoping to learn more about her deceased husband, Mary takes on the role of helpful servant. She does her dead husband’s laundry and tolerates his son’s disrespectful behavior. The dramatic situation develops in unexpected ways that tap into issues of interpersonal trust and ethnic and social stereotyping. Superb performances by Scanlan, Richard and the ensemble keep the dramatic tension high level and the tale of two women deeply compelling.

Liz Whittemore Love, loss, and letting go. Joanna Scanlan plays Mary, a widow who discovers her recently deceased husband’s secret double life. When confrontation plans go awry, she finds herself mistaken as a cleaning woman for the unsuspecting “other women.” As she secretly explores the home for clues, Mary becomes entwined in a family that should have been her own. We find that Mary converted to Islam for her marriage. After Ahmed’s passing and betrayal, her entire identity comes into question. The repeated device displaying cracks is clever. Scanlan bares her soul as Mary. The emotional upheaval and confusion seep from her pores. Her eyes and idiosyncrasies speak volumes in the copious silent moments. Writer-director Aleem Khan crafts a rattling “what if’ scenario with a script that surprises again and again with unexpected complexity. Delving into culture, language, sexuality, and family dynamics, After Love is a unique story that will have you talking.

Cate Marquis In Aleem Kahn’s award-winning, moving drama After Love, a plump middle-aged British woman, who converted to Islam for marriage, is devastated by the sudden death of her beloved Pakistan-born husband Ahmed, the captain of a ferry running between Britain and France. But that blow is followed by another, when she discovers her loving husband had a secret mistress in France. Distraught, the widow travels to France with plans to confront the mistress but she is dumbfounded to find a woman, not in headscarf and modest dress like herself, but a slim attractive blonde in modern Western dress. Speechless, the widow says nothing when the woman assumes she is the cleaner sent by the agency to help as she and her son prepare to move to a new home, unaware of Ahmed’s death. This strange situation takes us down unexpected paths that provide a range of human insights, in this well-acted, surprising drama.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: After Love

Director: Aleem Kahn

Release Date: January 20, 2023

Running Time: 89 minutes

Language: English and French/Arabic/Urdu with subtitles

Screenwriter: Aleem Kahn

Distribution Company: Vertigo Releasing

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).