Duration: 89 minutes
Writer/Director: Aleem Khan
Starring: Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss
By Caz Armstrong
“After Love” is an intriguing study of how loss can unite people, even those otherwise divided by culture and geography. Long takes reminiscent of the studious eye of Joanna Hogg or Dominga Sotomayor Castillo bring complicated emotions to the fore without spoon feeding in this exquisite and intriguing film.
In a beautifully choreographed long-take opening scene Fatima (Joanna Scanlan) and her husband Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia) return home and start chatting about the day’s events, clattering about making tea. Ahmed suddenly stops responding and all sound cuts out. Fatima rushes to him, presumably screaming although we don’t hear a word.
After this sudden death Fatima’s life is nothing but cold silence as she packs up Ahmed’s belongings and is left alone with the empty house. Upon finding something unexpected in his possessions Fatima suspects Ahmed has been keeping a big secret from her. She embarks on a solo journey across the English Channel to Calais, seeking answers.
One of the first things to note about Fatima is that she is a white British woman who converted to Islam when she married. She was given the name Mary at birth but took on an Islamic name when she converted. It’s a point of competition with people she meets that she converted when she married Ahmed, while others in his life did not go to these lengths.
This could have been positioned as a sacrifice for her husband, but Fatima has not lost anything. She gained a beautiful religion which she continues to practice. She gained a language as she is fluent in Urdu, and she has a genuine love and respect for Islam and Pakistani culture.
The theme of inherited and chosen culture touches on many points in the film. As Fatima gets to know Ahmed’s contacts in Calais, language is not so much of a barrier as a tool. It’s occasionally used to hide what’s being said but it’s also used to pass on culture and connection to Ahmed for those who missed out.
This is a quietly intriguing film which builds on the fact that the audience knows a lot more than the characters. Its static camera work asks us to really read the character’s emotions and seek connections between them.
Ultimately we are asked to reflect on bridging barriers rather than creating them. We see people overcoming language and cultural differences as well as personal betrayal, and still managing to create a connection that runs deep. It has a well rooted respect for different kinds of culture and shows how our lives can be enriched by experiencing the culture of other people.