Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Availability: Apple TV, Prime TV, Kanopy
Storyline: Mary was a fourteen year-old teenager when she first met Ahmed Hussain. When they later married the young English woman converted to Islam and assumed the Arabic name Fatima. She and Ahmed then lived for many years in the midst of a supportive and devout Muslim community in Dover. Ahmed, a ferry captain, spent his working life sailing back and forth from Dover to Calais. But when Ahmed dies unexpectedly Fatima discovers that the man to whom she’d devoted her life had a secret family in Calais. Determined to find out more about Genevieve, Ahmed’s newly discovered French ‘wife’, things become increasingly complicated when she finds Ahmed also has a teenage son, Solomon.
Film-craft: This exceptional film by English-Pakistani writer and director Aleem Khan has received multiple awards since its release in 2021. With a deft hand Kahn peels back layers of deception as the characters try to make sense of their feelings of loss and betrayal. Dynamics of racism and deception are exposed, and there is a wrenching intensity of emotion as Mary practices the rituals of prayer and grief in her Calais hotel room. There are many moments when Khan astutely leaves it to the audience to search for meaning – what is Mary thinking as she touches her body and her abdominal scar that we know must tell a story; what does she feel when she sees a photograph of Ahmed in Genevieve’s house happily enjoying a can of beer; and when she introduces herself as Mary is she meaning to deceive Genevieve or is it a step toward reclaiming her former identity? Avoiding the use of flashbacks there is also a clever use of technology to tell the story – Mary obsessively listens to Ahmed’s loving voicemail message, and texts are used to both deceive and to expose secrets.
Cast: British actor Joanna Scanlan is stunning as Mary. In a courageous performance she lays bare her physical and emotional self with relatively little dialogue. It’s not in the least surprising that she has received many accolades for her role in the film. Nathalie Richard is also terrific as Ahmed’s French ‘wife’ Genevieve. Although they have loved the same man, the women couldn’t be more different. Overweight Mary is reserved and stoic, while the rival for her husband’s affections is a modern French woman, outgoing, with a breezy sophistication. When Mary turns up on Genevieve’s doorstep wearing a hijab and salwar kameez the French woman mistakes her for her new cleaning woman. It is an uncomfortable scene that speaks volumes about their differences, and both women carry it off perfectly.
Personal Comments: After Love is an intelligent film that illuminates the sacred and secular worlds of the two women and the very different lives they have lived with Ahmed. Slowly drawn and with a palpable poignancy we are taken through a journey of loss and grief. Moving rather too quickly toward resolution at the end, the film is nevertheless one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time.