This is, astonishingly, director Aleem Khan’s debut feature film and it has recently won six awards at the British Independent Film Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Debut Director as well as winning Joanne Scanlan, in the main role, the Best Actress award. She also won that award at the Dublin Film Festival. It has recently been placed at number 20 on the Guardian Best 50 films of 2021 list.
Mary Hussain (Scanlan) converted to Islam to marry Ahmed (Memarzia), who works as a captain on a cross-channel ferry. Her world is thrown into disarray when her husband dies and she discovers that he was having a long-standing affair with a woman in Calais. Leaving her life in Dover behind, she arrives in France to surreptitiously meet Genevieve (Richard – Cache), only to be mistaken for the cleaning lady she was expecting to help her move house. Slowly infiltrating her husband’s mistress’ life, Mary strikes up a relationship with her son (Ariss), who is also the son of her late husband. But, of course, the truth of who she is can only be hidden for so long.
Joanna Scanlan is absolutely electric as Mary, a woman who has fully embraced and assimilated into a culture that was not her own. With her entire life revolving around this choice she made for the man she loved, the very fabric of her life is shaken upon the discovery of his betrayal, but she loved him so much that this uncovering of the secret half of his life is almost tinged with as much curiosity as it is hurt. Nathalie Richard also gives a tender performance as the ‘other woman’, who claims to have no interest in the wife of her lover.
This is a tremendously moving film about the complexity of love and grief. Though its title declares this story exists ‘after love’, the implication that their love for Ahmed is over is decidedly not true. Drenched with as much raw emotion as dramatic tension, this is a lean film that manages narrative efficiency and swift pace without losing contemplative nuance too. That’s incredible for a debut feature. After Love is poignant, melancholy and a stunningly successful film, which is likely to be one of the best you’ll see this year.
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