Two films

AFTER LOVE

Directed by Joachim Lafosse

A film for devotees of dense, moody relationship dramas, After Love is a searing exploration of the post happily-ever-after time, when you share kids you both love but unfortunately – because of financial exigencies – still cohabit in the same space.  Uncoupling, in case we forgot, is complicated.  

Berenice Bejo, so amusing in the prize-winning silent, The Artist (2011), a fetching presence, is in constant motion as the film progresses, cooking, making her twin daughters Margaux and Jade brush their teeth, wash up, and do their homework.  It is as if she wants to outwalk the sadness and annoyances of having run out of love with her handsome but unreliable architect husband, Boris (Cédric Khan, director of the French Red Lights), who does not seem to respect the boundaries of divorce as he flouts the legal strictures of the divorce judgment, comes and goes at all hours.  He loves his children, we see, as he cooks for them and tries to maintain some sort of foodie integrity ("Don't let them eat ice cream: They should eat their stewed fruit cup...")  And as someone commented in the vestibule when we were discussing the film's merits or de-, no matter that he's a gambler and an uncertain provider – "it's still so rare to find a man so good with kids."  So all is forgiven, kiddies?

No.  Lots of divorced men love their children but don't invite themselves to parties they are told to leave or owe massive debts to shady guys who visit without warning.

Still, although the subject area is rich with possibility, is it the first or even the 10th filmic treatment of nasty matrimonial detritus to come along?

It is well scripted and photographed; the translations from the French are, for a change, quite accurate and timely; and the two daughters are, thank goodness, not angelic, giving some verisimilitude to the taut grimace-inducing interchanges between the principals.  Marthe Keller, not seen for many years on the silver screen on these shores, plays the frustrated mother of Bejo – but the years have taken their toll of the lissome lovely seen opposite Dustin Hoffman in 1976's Marathon Man.

Though redemption – spoiler alert – does not come over the transom by the closing credits, should you be curious about how divorced people still sharing the same domicile get through the week, this is the ticket.

In French with English subtitles.

Official selection: Directors' Fortnight, Cannes Film Festival. 

INGRID GOES WEST

Directed by Matt Spicer

Set in sunny California amid the sandy dunes and the palm trees, Ingrid Goes West is a dark picture.  Watching it, colleagues felt disturbed throughout the length of the picture.  Ingrid Thorburn is a woman with clear esteem issues verging on the stalkerazzoid who follows her Instagram and FB muse to the West Coast, using every tool at her disposal to ingratiate herself with the goddess-like figure she admires (Elizabeth Olsen plays the sunlight-radiating, image-idealizing Taylor Sloane) on her various branded posts.  The film devolves greatly on the cell phone and the instant messaging and pic posting so beloved of millions.

The ugliness of character that is blatant in the protagonist, played by an unnerving Aubrey Plaza, throughout the two hours is, unfortunately, echoed by millions of tweens and teens, for whom followers and going viral are all important.  She may be unhinged, but the characters she interacts with seem not to notice for far too long.

A key problem with the script is that events proceed far too swiftly without logical script underpinning.  She's taken in by a sweet, hunky local guy – the only relatable person in the cast, Dan Pinko, played by the extremely likable O'Shea Jackson, Jr. – without a single document or checkup of her references – even if she does, because of an inheritance, pay cash up front.  She escapes arrest too easily.  She insinuates herself into being her landlord's "girlfriend" without a second thought – or regard of his being already taken.

Implausible at it increasingly becomes, you can't tear your attention away, though you are engulfed in discomfort over her counterfeit life.  She's an instant friend of people who don't know the smallest thing about her.  She is able to stay off the grid for far longer than her initial stash would seem to have covered.  The easy druggy, drinky, hard-partying life exuded by Taylor and her husband Ezra (a Kris Kristofferson-the-younger lookalike, Wyatt Russell) and nasty brother Nicky (Billy Magnuson), looks somewhat, sometime, seductive.  But it's just a glossy easily erased photo on Instagram, when you think about it.

No special effects.  No "language" issues.  Some expected violence and pushback.  But lots of up-to-the-minute unapologetic psychoneurotic disorder. 

The audience does laugh at those points where insane talk or behavior (or foodie absurdities) would be laughed out of the room in the East, but where La La Land goofiness covers every gold-plated nuttiness with a cozy effusion of acceptance and "Whatever, dude."

If it were just a movie, you'd be justified shrugging and washing your hands of it.  But there are no doubt untold others out there with equal disconnectedness to reality, relationships, and permission to indulge in sick ego musts.

Looked at literarily, one can make a theoretical claim that this is a morality tale out of Jane Austen writing of the mores of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England.  Others writing in the period, like Dickens, when Good won and Evil or noted lack of Grace was trounced.  But instead of Good triumphing through virtue, here, Ingrid, inbred with vice, inverts the presumed pyramid of success and eventual power.  The darkness of the film seems almost an inverse "conduct novel" of the 19th century, where the paradigm of poor or ill starred woman was transformed by model behavior into fortune's inheritor.  Ingrid comes from nothing, from nowhere, an "orphaned" young woman who, by impinging on her fortune with the tools at hand, educates herself into deliberate impropriety, rather than what those morality novels extolled.

The result of this inversion of fine behavior by its obverse, amoral, and avaricious determination to win at all costs is a valorization of its opposite, ideal behavior.  Ingrid's succeed-at-all-costs immorality, social climbing, and unmitigated posing shapes the social lives and relations of millions of fantasy-fraught young in today's America.  Alas.