Afterwards (DVD, 2009)

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Slow and sentimental movie about foreseeing deaths

Oct 29, 2009 (Updated Oct 29, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:locations, cinematography of Mark Pin-Bing Lee

Cons:pace, script, casting, lack of DVD bonus features

The Bottom Line: Disappointing adaptation of best-selling French supernatural kitsch (the movie is in English)


My main French find in recent French find writeoffs was French actor Romain Duris (born in Paris in 1974). Duris made his mark in romantic comedies as a Parisian abroad: in Barcelona in "L'auberge espagnole"(The Spanish Inn, 2002), in London and St. Petersburg in the sequel "Les poupées russes" (Russian Dolls, 2005), both directed by Cédric Klapisch; and as the young Molière in an opulent 2007 biopic. Duris spoke some English in the Klapisch movies and also exuded Gallic charm in  English as the French husband of a Southern California woman in "Le Divorce," the not-very-good Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Diane Johnson's best-selling novel. Along the way, Duris also showed that he could act in a very unsympathetic role in "De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté" (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, 2005) and also  played an Arab traveling across Spain in "Exils" (2004) and a witness to mistreatment of Romani (gypsies) in "Gadjo dilo" (The Crazy Stranger, 1997).

I was curious about  Duris's top-billed role in the English language "Afterwards," not least in that I had heard nothing about the movie, which also starred John Malkovich. As soon as it came out on DVD (this week), I watched it. Adapted from a big best-seller in France, Guillaume Musso's  novel Et Après...(And after), the 2008 movie is a slow-paced sort of supernatural thriller... with no thrills and little suspense.

The premise is that 'messengers' perceive a white aura around those who are going to die soon and endeavor to get those who are about to die to do things that will ease regrets. The unlikely angel of mercy is a hospice physician Doctor Kay, played by a particularly cadaverous-like John Malkovich.

The movie opens with a boy and girl playing on what turns out to be a rotting dock on some New England lake. She falls through. Running to get help, the boy is struck by a car and the white light soul rises from his lifeless body. After the boy comes out of a coma, he is questioned about crossing over to death by the voice of John Malkovich. The boy acknowledges that he his holding back the reason he came back.

Then there is a staff conference in the vast offices of a NYC law firm in which Nathan (Duris) argues against taking the case of a Haitian family that lost nine of its members in  plane crash. After the meeting, Nathan is very irritated that Dr. Kay has been scheduled to meet with him without providing any clear idea of the purpose of the meeting.

Dr. Kay gradually convinces Nathan of the foreseeing of deaths, without knowing exactly when or how death will come and with no ability to alter Destiny. Since the movie viewer sees the white auras that Kay does, and because those he sees as about to die do so, even when Nathan thinks he has forestalled one, the notion is injected with some plausibility. Casting of Malkovich, whose screen persona is more devil than angel, works against this, the pace is slow, and it is difficult to credit Duris as a high-powered, workaholic Manhattan lawyer. His very tailored three-piece suits make him seem skinny rather than svelte. Something of the worst of both worlds is not being able to credit Duris as totally career-driven and not seeing much connection to those he purportedly loves (a daughter and a wife from whom he is separated, played, respectively, by Pascale Bussières and Evangeline Lilly (of "Lost").

They live in Albuquerque, and the elder seems to be a desert botanist. At least she spends a night out in White Sands for the one night a year in which a night-blooming cerus blooms. (My next-door former Hoosier neighbors in Tucson had one, so I've seen it with considerable less effort than Claire makes.)

The one great thing I'll grant the movie, is the cinematography in New Mexico of Taiwanese Mark Pin-Bing Lee (Millennium Mambo, Puppetmaster, In the Mood for Love) as well as in Montréal (playing NYC) and New York (playing itself). I don't much like the post-Satie soundtrack music by Alexandre Desplat (Lust, Caution, The Queen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

There are no DVD bonus features, not even a trailer for the movie. Annoyingly, three trailers for other Weinstein movies precede the menu and are not indexed. (I like trailers, but like to choose which ones to watch.)

Awash in noble sentiments, "Afterwards' might be considered a Day of the Dead movie, though not ghoulish or gory  in the usual understanding of "Halloween" movie.

And M. Duris has returned to France and the direction of Cédric Klapisch, who has proven his ability to make him an engaging screen presence.

©2009, Stephen O, Murray


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