Marie Barrault (Bérénice Bejo) is in a complicated situation with her husband Boris (Cédric Kahn) who she has grown to detest over recent months, years even. She knows they are close to splitting up, but is also all too aware of the damage this will do to their twin daughters Jade (Jade Soentjens) and Margaux (Margaux Soentjens) who are already acting up and refusing to follow their mother's instructions. It gets more complex than that: she is the owner of the house they stay in, though Boris is not supposed to be living there because the couple are currently separated, but as a builder he claims the renovations he performed on the building entitle him to a good half of any profit Marie may make on it - and she is hating him for this.
If ever there was the perfect image to sum up simmering resentment, then it was all there in Bejo's demeanour in this relationship drama. Director Joachim Lafosse, working with three other writers, almost pathologically kept the action confined to that house, all the better to amplify the emotions felt by the characters for we feel just as much as they do that they are stuck with each other and all the hatred and turmoil that is breeding. It was only come the last act that we ventured outside the walls and garden to see the world, though the first time that happened it was far from a beneficial reason, as if that home had as much been protecting the characters from the consequences of going through with a divorce.
They certainly live in a strange bubble, where in the first hour Marie can barely contain her ill temper towards a man who is increasingly looking like a complete deadbeat, getting into trouble with gangsters, not keeping up his end of the finances, playing the little girls' love of their parents off his wife, and actually moving in once again because he has nowhere else to go. You can imagine how this winds up Marie, and there was a setpiece sequence where she has invited a few friends over for an evening meal which is gatecrashed by Boris and he almost starts arguing heatedly with them, a perfect storm of passive aggression that will have you cringing mightily as you watch it awkwardly unfold.
With this kind of domestic drama, there is always the threat that it is going to turn into a plot worthy of soap opera, but Lafosse was blessed with two very decent leads who were up to the task of not only convincing the audience that Marie and Boris (Kahn may be best known as a director; Red Lights is one of his) have a history which did involve some deep affection, but also how that has soured into the barely tolerated relationship they have now where it appears to be the presence of the daughters as the sole element holding them back from actively knocking lumps out of each other. That manner in which the children are regarded as trophies with regard to who can win their love more often than the parent's rival was so vividly portrayed that quite often you had the sense that you should really be watching this detrimental atmosphere through your fingers.
In the main, your sympathies were with Marie since she came across as the most responsible, but she was not entirely angelic, refusing help from her own mother (Marthe Keller) and that side of an already wealthy family because of her pride preventing her from doing anything that might have her admit she needs help and cannot stand on her own two feet without at least a little propping up from those around her. But it was Boris who was the source of the most frustration, making promises he cannot keep and displaying a lackadaisical attitude to whatever Marie believe his duties to their offspring may be, so when he first reminds her of what made her love him in the first place, allowing a peace to settle on the house, then second sets out his claim for half of what Marie has when it looks as though the divorce will go through after all, mixed reactions are paramount in the mind: he's not a bad guy, but he's not a great guy either. If nothing else, After Love, or L'économie du couple as it was in French, was too good at showing how messy things will get when a marriage breaks down, because you could admire its skill without wanting to sit through something like it again very soon.