What do you do when the person you love isn’t whom you thought?
Mary Hussain (Joanna Scanlan) is a devoted wife and practising Muslim. She and Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia) have been together since their teens. They live in Dover, where Ahmed works as a ferry captain.
It’s a double blow when Ahmed dies and, in the aftermath, Mary discovers he has a second family just across the Channel in Calais.
The feature debut of writer-director Aleem Khan, After Love is a low-key look at what it means to, in effect, lose someone twice. Mary is a timid character; swept along on a tide of circumstance. Her decision to seek out the other woman (Nathalie Richard) is made on a whim. The fact she then ends up working as the family maid sounds improbable – shades here of Synecdoche, New York – but Mary’s passivity sells us on the conceit.
This is testament to Scanlan, who gives a remarkable performance of bewilderment and fortitude. Mary keeps returning to an old voicemail message from Ahmed, a comforting reminder of times past; even as she’s forced to confront a whole other side of her late husband.
Khan’s script subtly hints at Mary’s self-reevaluation, the inevitable comparison between herself and the other woman; this newly-discovered interloper in her and Ahmed’s marriage. Mary’s religion, as a white British Muslim, is presented without comment – “I’ve worn [a hijab] for longer than I haven’t”. It’s just a detail, one aspect of their lives together.
Chris Roe’s wry, insinuating violin score and Alexander Dynan’s crisp, washed-out cinematography lend the film a powerful normalcy; a sense that this story could be playing out in real life.
After Love‘s strength lies in this emotional fidelity. It’s a quietly moving experience that makes the case for understatement.