There's a power struggle that is at the heart of every divorce, but also there is a kind of emotional negotiation. Belgian director Joachim Lafosse's latest may be titled After Love here in America, but the French title is L’Économie du Couple, which translates to "The Economy of the Couple". It's an accurate description for the many tradeoffs between divorcing couple Marie (Berenice Bejo) and Boris (Cedric Kahn), who despite their tenuous status continue to live under the same roof.
As you can imagine, there are tensions that mount between them pretty much on a daily basis. Many of them have to do with money (that economy thing again), often the root cause of any crumbling marriage. An academic who carried the family financially, Marie wants to sell their Brussels home and move elsewhere with their twin 8-year-old daughters. Boris has never been self-sufficient, working as a handyman around the house to earn his keep. He can't afford to live on his own, and fights to get his fair share of the sale. The subject seems to come up even when it shouldn't. There is no conversation that can't turn ugly at a moment's notice. What had once been a happy home now takes on the guise of a prison.
Except these "prisoners" have it within their power to leave, if they weren't blinded by petty grievances. As the breadwinner, Marie banishes him to a tiny room, and piles on rule after rule to restrict his movements and actions. She won't allow Boris to do some housework on her mother's home, for which he would be paid handsomely and could move out, simply because she doesn't want to give him the satisfaction. Or is it because she, somewhere deep down, doesn't want to give up on what they once had? The same could be asked of him, who frequently demands his fair share for the work he did to raise the home's value. Through all of the anger, Boris and Marie still bond over the parenting of their daughters, who naturally work in secret to put their parents back together. And they are also prone to moments of intense passion, falling back into old comforts when left emotionally unguarded.
Set almost entirely within these four walls, After Love takes on the confined shape of a stage play, and we feel a bit of claustrophobia as the rhetoric heats up between Boris and Marie. Lafosse fights against the urge to play favorites, revealing critical faults that suggest their marriage was ruined by a vast array of troubles. The distance Lafosse keeps very nearly borders on complete detachment, but we are brought back in by the performances by Bejo and Kahn, who must portray feelings that are frequently at odds with another. You can't help but feel like a fly on the wall eavesdropping into the lives of this heartbreaking couple, but After Love doesn't make us want to stop, either.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5