MovieMonday: Love After Love

This is a nicely done movie that observes how a man’s death affects his wife and two grown sons.

Early on, Glenn (Gareth Williams) is a wheezing but happy presence at a family picnic and, shortly afterward, a helpless lung cancer patient who needs basic care to use the toilet and to breathe.  After his death, he is zipped into a body bag, and we watch what happens after a critical thread is ripped from the tapestry that has been his family.

There is rich material here.  If you have lost a parent or spouse or child, you know that bereavement is more than crying at the memorial service and then feeling twinges of sadness afterward.  Adjusting to such loss is the cost of love.  It is deeply personal, and it is a process without shortcuts.

Here, the wife and mother, Suzanne (Andie McDowell, very good) works to maintain her composure as best she can around her children.  To her credit, she blows up only once, among others, and then loses her patience a couple other times, appropriately.  Over time, she opens herself to replacing the love she has lost.

Her son, Nick (the excellent Chris O’Dowd), seems to continue to function at work and in life, but lashes out irrationally at girlfriends, causing pain to them and to himself.  He also is hard on his mother, reverting at one point to an inner child who doesn’t want her to repaint the living room or throw away any of his childhood stuff.

The second son, Chris (Jame Adonian, in a role less fully realized), seems more discombobulated initially, but appears to gain perspective somewhat faster than his brother.

The movie does not move smoothly, but at times lurches from one family gathering to another, frequently attended by a silent grandmother whose purpose and thoughts are a mystery. There are also encounters among friends — how else to display what is going on in the characters’ minds?  The plot involves uncomfortable conversations and even yelling, but all are organic to the story and feel true.

There are several filmic repetitions — naked lovers in similar poses, Suzanne bewildered at a high school dance and then dancing with a new suitor near her age. These help to knit up a necessarily un-smooth story line.

The film is the first full-length feature written and directed by Russell Harbaugh, who has acknowledged that the situation, if not its details, owes much to his experience of his own father’s death.  It revisits Harbaugh’s shorter 2011 Vimeo film, “Rolling on the Floor Laughing,” that considers a piece of this movie’s narrative and is easy to find online.

The Title

The film takes its name from this Derek Walcott poem.

Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

There’s nothing wrong with this poem, and it is fair to guess that its discussion — of a person changed by love, by loss and by the synthesis of the two experiences — resonates for Russell Harbaugh.

As a film title, however, I’m not sure it’s a great choice in a commercial sense.

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