Film Review: Afterwards

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PARIS -- "Et Apres," the French title of Gilles Bourdos' bilingual movie "Afterwards," can also be translated as "So What?" Which is 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.

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 explained. One day he is visited by a mysterious figure calling himseld 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 then singles out an old flame, Anna (Pascale Bussieres), as being next in line for the chop.

The movie builds up, via a revelation that Nathan's break with his wife was caused by his inability to handle the loss of his infant son in a cot-death, 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 may look askance at its more obvious failings, popular audiences drawn to an adaptation of Guillaume Musso's international best-seller may be more charitable.

Opens: Jan. 14 (France)
Production company: Fidelite Films
Cast: Romain Duris, John Malkovich, Evangeline Lilly, Pascale Bussieres, Reece Daniel Thompson, Sara Waisglass
Director: Gilles Bourdos
Writers: Michel Spinosa, Gilles Bourdos
Based on the novel by: Guillaume Musso
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Direcgtor of photography: Mark Ping Bing Lee
Production designer: Anne Pritchard
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Editor: Valerie Deseine
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 107 minutes