“The Aftermath”

“The Aftermath” is a beautifully filmed post World War II drama set in Hamburg. Based on a novel by Rhidian Brook, this film beckons me to read the novel just to see how long it takes to feel any connection to the main character Rachel Morgan. Keira Knightley at first seems like a closed book of shallow needs and prejudiced failings. She has come from London to be with her husband Lewis, who has important work in the British Occupied Zone of Germany as Regional Governor . He is such a good man that actor Jason Clarke may find himself beatified by viewers. The Morgans seemed mismatched in empathy for broken spirits and fallen edifices.

The Elbe flows and we learn more. Both Rachel and Lewis are in the throes of grief. Their eight-year-old son had been killed in his bedroom in a blitz of German bombing. Lewis buries himself in work, never really asking for details in his son’s death. Subconsciously blaming his wife for not better protecting him, Lewis only in retrospect asks if he suffered. Rachel finds herself wondering about Lewis lack of display of feeling, and identifies with the subsuming grief of the architect whose manor house they inhabit. His wife, Claudine, was also killed in a British fire bombing. He is left with a daughter Freda to raise.

A love triangle develops with the architect, Stephen Lubert, played dashingly by Alexander Skarsgard, who in a lovely scene practices his English in front of a mirror, “ Welcome, please come inside. Let me show you the house.” Lewis has graciously allowed the father and daughter to remain on the estate. They move to the attic rather than to one of the many wings. This keeps them out of the refugee camps and into the daily life if the Morgans. Stephen re-centers vases on tables and takes pride in his home’s furnishings. He is lonely, appreciative, and physically attracted to Rachel, who seems to hate all Germans. She initially rejects his proffered hand shake. A challenge, physical need, and shared grief are motives for the lust to follow. There are foreshadowings of subdued desire with a female nude replacing a portrait if Hitler, a stain that can’t be removed was at first covered up with a lace curtain. Melodramatic coupling ensues after an aggressive kiss. Director James Kent keeps the sex scenes smoldering. The pairing of Knightley and Skarsgard sets up a loyalty and betrayal theme that is resolved at the film’s end.

The marriage of Lewis and Rachel is balanced nicely against the affair. They sleep together, talk of their honeymoon. Lewis is heavy with the compliments, and patient with Rachel’s primping and pouty demeanor. She is at first unhappy with her husband’s suggestion that the Lubert stay. “ I was looking forward to it just being us.” Rachel states, though one knows she would need the staff to carry on. Lewis tells her that “ none of this is as it was supposed to be”.  There is chaos out there, and no food. Meanwhile, Rachel complains to the maid that the plants are blocking the light and need to be moved. The staff roll their eyes and talk in metaphors, like “ maggots on bacon”.

The cinematography of Frank Lustig is what you come to see as the superlative in “ The Aftermath”. The blues and golden ochres stay with you, the soft and focused lighting is like poetry. Production designer Sonja Klaus deserves credit, too. My movie partner noticed the German china as a duplicate of her own brought back by her mother in the late forties. Rachel’s seamed stocking are perfectly straight, their son’s maroon sweater frayed just enough, and Rachel’s German so inexact that she calls the maid delicious rather than the meal. Velvet and pearls are Rachel’s regular garb. We wonder why she doesn’t help out in a soup kitchen.

Rachel tells Lewis that he is stifled under all that righteousness, when their bedtime is interrupted, she sarcastically tells him “ to go save Germany”. Privileged selfishness is hard to sanction, yet in the end we understand Rachel better, and it saves the film.

The violence in “ The Aftermath” is fast, yet suspenseful~ a hard combination. We know Lewis is right when he says that it is not war that makes us men. It may be love and forgiveness.

The British opine that the Yanks got the view, the French got the wine, and they got the ruins. The tension sizzles as uprisings flair with hardline Nazis. Occupied zones have been dealt with in other post WWII films, and there are many stories to tell. “ The Aftermath” meshes the pain of war with the psychology of healing. I have trouble seeing Rachel as the best part of Lewis, but that is love for you.

 

 

 

“Julieta”

Alice Munro ‘s understanding of the female psyche is put on-screen by the incomparable Spanish auteur, Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar is no stranger to the passions and tribulations of female survivors. His ” Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown” ( 1988) and his ” All About My Mother” ( 1999) and his ” Talk To Her” (2002)  attest. Here, he uses three Munro short stories which follow a mother who loses her family.

“Silence”, ” Chance “, and  “Soon ” are the source material, but Almodovar’s sense of seeing the world makes the film his own. We begin with color. A close-up of scarlet-red silk breathing mimics a heart’s rise and fall. The camera backs away and a woman in a red duster and painted nails is reshelving books. She will no longer go to Portugal with her husband, Lorenzo,( Dario Grandinetti ) but will wait in Madrid and re-lease her old apartment. She hopes that her only daughter, who her husband does not know about will try to find her. Her second husband and she  have been planning the move to Portugal for a year, but a chance encounter on the street with Beatrix, (Michelle Jenner ) who used to be her daughter’s best friend gives her hope for seeing her lost Antia.

The dialogue is brusque and mysterious. Lorenzo is alarmed, but understanding.” I knew there was something important in your life that you never told me. I’ve respected that.” Julieta replies with a strong, ” Keep respecting it.”  Paradoxically, he stalks her, yet gives her space.

We next see Julieta writing a confessional letter to Antia. Viewers are entranced with Julieta’s ” Where do I begin… ! ” I first met your father twenty-five years ago on a train. The mysteries of her life are unrolled slowly. Two actresses beautifully portray the young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) and the older Julieta ( Emma Suarez). The switch from young Julieta to middle-aged Julieta is done magically.  Her head is bath towel covered when Antia and Bea aid the depressed Julieta from her bath, and voila.

Julieta’s initial depression stems from her first husband, Xoan’s violent death. Daniel Grao plays this part with aplomb. His backstory is melodramatic. His first wife was in a coma for five years, but still living when Julieta became pregnant with Antia in their chance train encounter. A stag and a suicide heat things up, symbolically.

Julieta appears months later at Xoan’s seaside cottage. It happens to be the day of his wife’s funeral. The housekeeper, Maria, ( Rossy de  Palma) lets her know that he is being comforted by Ava, his dead wife’s artist friend. Ava ( Inma Cuesta) creates red male figures with prominent phalluses.

Infidelity is a theme running throughout the film. Julieta’s father has a mistress, and her own mother is bedridden. When Xoan and Julieta argue and Xoan is killed in twenty-five foot waves, the now thirteen- year-old Antia is at camp. His body is not in tact, but Julieta identifies him by his arm tattoo, a red heart with A & J inscribed within. Could it be for Antia & Julieta? Or does it include Ava and first wife Ana, too ?  It is Ava and Julieta that disperse Xoan’s ashes. The young Antia is protected at great cost.

Julieta’s silence contributes to  her now eighteen-year-old daughter rebelling by joining a spiritual commune. She disappears for thirteen years. Antia’s choice of a path which does not include her mother is devastating. Almodovar’ s camera records birthday cards sent unsigned, cakes throw in the trash, and every item relating to her daughter destroyed. Forsaken images of Julieta sitting on park benches, roaming Madrid streets and staring at young people playing say much about estranged mother/ daughter relationships. The grief of its loss is obsessive and palpable. Alberto Iglesias’ score keeps mystery alive.

In the end, there is another drowning and the promise of a reunion brought together by mother love. There is but a hint of  Almodovar’s humor in this film: I miss it.  The vengefulness of a teenage girl is mean and hard. This is a lonely homage to how alone we are. It is quite a tour de force.  For lit majors, it also pays homage to the Canadian writer, Alice Munro. Kudos to all. Female emotional depth is here.