AFTERWARDS Movie Review – Toronto Film Festival

     September 10, 2008

Written by Monika Bartyzel

As much as we like to imagine ourselves immortal, our lives on Earth are finite. No matter what fantastical stories suggest, a dark, cloaked figure won’t come out of the shadows and trade blood for immortality, and there’s no fountain that will bring us everlasting youth. Yet we live as immortals, driving fast and acting as though we have all the time of the world. But what if we knew that we didn’t; how would we change our lives?

In Gilles Bourdos’ Afterwards, Nathan (Romain Duris) rests at the base of this very question. He is a successful New York City lawyer who saturates his life with work until Doctor Kay (John Malkovich) rips through the lawyer’s self-imposed isolation. Through a collection of vague and confusing comments about health, life, and death, Kay attempts to explain his special calling to Nathan. As a self-named messenger, Kay can tell when people are about to die – not the date or way they will pass, but the simple fact that their days on earth are numbered.

Bit by reluctant bit, Nathan realizes the truth of Kay’s position, as the doctor sends him on missions that prove true, no matter how much Nathan fights against them. Through each discovery, the careful isolation that Nathan has created crumbles as he is forced to face the memories that have removed him from his ex-wife (Evangeline Lilly) and estranged him from his daughter.

As a story, Afterwards is compelling and heart-wrenching. Tapping into ever-prevalent fears of death, it’s easy to feel every nerve fill with tension and become consumed with the story. As a film, however, it feels a bit removed. Each performance is fine, but lacks that electric connection that separates a good film from a masterpiece. Emotional ties are weighted by the plot, not within the interpersonal relationships and performances existing on-screen.

But perhaps that is for the best. With a film that is so entrenched in death from beginning to end, it’s hard to imagine taking the journey with even more personal involvement. While the critical moviegoer will question the film’s techniques, the emotional moviegoer will be relieved that the journey isn’t any more painful. It is, at times, hard to watch, and having some removal allows the material to never become suffocated in sorrow.

That being said, Afterwards isn’t all about sadness, and there’s a certain reward and peace in moving through this story. The pieces are wrapped up in a way that’s perfectly fitting to the material and satisfying to those that have suffered through so much loss on-screen. It is not a bright and cheery conclusion, but an ending that will, like the film on a whole, leave you feeling drained, but emotionally moved and satisfied.

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