The Myrna Loy
“The Aftermath” has it all: The ruins of war. The ruins of marriage. The ruins of a very disappointing movie.
We can’t say we weren’t warned: The screenwriter’s name is Shrapnel.
Set in 1946 (the special year I popped out, took a look around and decided to stay), “Aftermath” is a period drama, which takes place in Hamburg, Germany. A British colonel is sent to Hamburg to “oversee the reconstruction of the British zone.”
Part of his assignment involves “de-Nazification,” determining which Germans were Nazi sympathizers or collaborators, and which were not.
Concerned that such initiatives would sweep up the innocent as well as the guilty, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber spoke out imploring the world to treat Germans with compassion as they healed from the war.
Buber insisted we look for the good in Germans rather than condemning them all as complicit monsters. Hold the guilty accountable, of course, but pray for all Germans to heal. But most of the world was too set on vengeance to heed Buber’s advice.
In short, that post-war period in Germany was like a steaming cauldron boiling over into every corner of German life.
Sadly, “Aftermath” mostly refuses to explore the complex moral aftermath of World War II, settling for a melodramatic a love triangle set inside the rubble of reconstruction.
At the center is Rachel (Keira Knightley), the wife of a British colonel (Jason Clarke). She joins her husband in Hamburg, living in the house of German Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard), and Lubert’s daughter, Freda. The Germans take up residence in the attic, ceding the rest of their home to Rachel and Lewis.
Beautiful Brit in the parlor. Handsome German in the attic. Hmmm. My place or yours?
The script starts like a serious study of that period, but then furtive glances cut through the air, followed by a startling kiss and a melodramatic slap. But the passion can’t be stopped – and red hot adultery blooms in a German winter, warming the lady fair.
At that point the film descends into a very pretty soap opera in which the burning question is whom will Rachel choose? By the end, it seemed clear that the trappings of reconstruction were a ruse, to provide a framework for a tale of love and lust. That mysterious spot on the wall where a portrait of Hitler might have hung? It’s covered by a painting of a nude lady, lounging. That pretty much sums up the film – romantic steam clouds the history.
In fairness, the film is luscious to behold – exquisite sets, elegant costumes, artful cinematography. Such beauty saved a few salacious scenes. Confession: Even I marveled at Keira Knightley’s black velvet dress set off with pearls. Where do I get me one?
And there’s one lovely moment at the piano when Rachel and young Freda play a duet, Debussy’s Claire de Lune. Freda and Rachel are both suffering, and their bond is considerably more convincing than the breathless sighs of Rachel and Stephen.
As disappointed as I was in “The Aftermath,” other critics were even less kind. In fact, the film sparked some highly entertaining reviews. There’s an art to writing with a cynical quill. So, let’s invite my fellow critics take us home. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect… yada yada.
“I kept thinking of Donald Duck's nephews: For all its noble intentions, ‘The Aftermath’ is dewey, gooey and, even with its moments, hooey.”
“An emotionally constipated movie about emotional constipation.”
“Over-heated, overwrought, over-furnished and over-dressed.”
“‘The Aftermath’ is rather like suds; its lovely bubbles pop, leaving nothing behind.”
“Lingerie and tears shed in morally complex historical drama.”
“It's that kind of film, I'm afraid. One in which the snow is deeper than the characters, and the parquet floors less wooden than the plot.”