"Afterwards" abounds in mysticism, lacks punch

Fri Jan 16, 2009 12:41am EST

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PARIS (Hollywood Reporter) - "Et Apres," the French title of Gilles Bourdos' bilingual movie "Afterwards," also can be translated as "So What?" That's the response one is tempted to make to this ponderous rumination on life, death and the meaning of existence that fails either to convince or to truly engage.

But the film's high-profile cast, lush romanticism, limpid lensing and modish New Age sensibility mean that with astute marketing, it may yet find an audience on both sides of the Atlantic. The film opened January 14 in France.

Its premise shows promise: After undergoing a near-death experience resulting from a car accident, Nathan (Romain Duris) has become a successful lawyer but is divorced from his wife, Claire (Evangeline Lilly), for reasons that are not at first explained. One day he is visited by a mysterious figure calling himself Dr. Kay (John Malkovich), who claims to be able to identify people who are about to die by an aura of bright light that surrounds them.

Assuming that Kay's attentions mean that his own days are numbered, Nathan seeks to debunk the doctor's claims, particularly when he singles out an old flame, Anna (Pascale Bussieres), as being next in line for the chop.

The movie builds, via a revelation that Nathan's break with his wife was caused by his inability to handle the loss of his infant son, to a surprise ending that should move us more than it does. But in getting there the film tends to lose its way -- and much of the spectator's goodwill. Roadblocks include a lot of portentous philosophizing of the gather-ye-rosebuds variety and heavy-handed symbolism involving swans and swan songs and flowers that bloom only one day in the year. The film also muddies the waters with a subplot involving a dying 17-year-old that has no real bearing on Nathan's dilemma.

Part of the problem is a listless performance by Duris, one of France's best young leads, who is miscast here. Lilly's character is wafer-thin, and though Malkovich does Malkovich as only Malkovich can, no rationale is provided for Kay's mysterious powers. Thus, we are left unmoved.

The film is boosted by first-rate cinematography from Mark Ping Bing Lee, which provides striking views of New York and is a pleasure throughout. While critics might look askance at its more obvious failings, popular audiences drawn to an adaptation of Guillaume Musso's international best-seller might be more charitable.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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