It aims for your heart but hits the funny bone.
When you get bored during the post- WWII drama The Aftermath, it’s fun to imagine what the film would be like if it were written as a trashy beach read that middle-aged housewives would pick up at their local library.
Rachael watched Stephen from the window as he prepped the next piece of wood for chopping. He raised his ax to the sky, and Rachael felt a chill run through her spine and down her legs as she waited for the impact. As Stephen prepared to strike, he noticed Rachael in the window. She stared back, just long enough, before withdrawing back into the darkness of the house.
As Rachael screamed at Stephen, accusing him of Nazism, the man leaned in closer. It was at that moment she realized that Stephen Lubert was no Nazi after all, losing herself in his sudden, aggressive yet passionate kiss and sacrificing herself to the inevitable. The lovers took to the table, ripping off their clothes and unable to escape their carnal needs. Stephen begins to thrust…
To be fair, the film doesn’t leave much breathing room for tedium to penetrate its 108-minute running time. Its fierce dedication to sweeping, melodramatic moments and postwar erotic fiction is inspiring, giving it a likely unintended push into the realm of humorous, guilty pleasure.
Kiera Knightly plays Rachael, a housewife left to twiddle her thumbs in a large Hamburg home while her husband, British colonel Lewis (Jason Clarke), helps with reconstruction following the city’s brutal destruction by bombs. But there’s a twist—living on the top floor of the home are its previous owners, Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann). As these stories often go, a wordless sexual tension is formed between Rachael and Stephen as they spend their days passing each other in hallways and gazing at one another from afar.
The camera focuses first on their longing, then truly goes for broke once the passion finally kicks in. You can almost feel director James Kent emphasizing an erotic novel’s buzzwords with his close-ups. Thrust. Thighs. Sweat. Ass. Nipple. It’s admittedly a sexy film, although silliness often overshadows sensuality.
The Aftermath takes subtlety and throws it out the window, both in its portrayals of carnal desires and interior turmoil. The latter zeroes in on Lewis and Rachael’s lasting grief following the death of their child years prior, as well as Stephen and Freda’s heartache over the passing of his wife and her mother. The movie transparently screams at you, “DO YOU GET IT? THE REAL AFTERMATH IS ABOUT GRIEF, NOT A COUNTRY DESTROYED BY WAR!” and while this scrutiny of sorrow is where its drama holds the most emotional value, it never quite capitalizes on it, instead losing itself to cheesy, melodramatic waves that often overpower it.
This is a film where people are either delivering grand monologues, gazing longingly, crying or fucking, but it ultimately makes the most of its inherent yet unintentional atmosphere of goofy charm. The Aftermath aims for your heart, but it ends up hitting the funny bone. It’s not a bad thing, however, as this incidental effect is what helps an otherwise pedestrian story survive.