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ROME 2020

Aleem Khan • Director of After Love

"I grew up in a mixed-race family and didn't really know where I fitted into society"

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- Cineuropa met up with Aleem Khan to talk about his debut feature, After Love, awarded the Cannes label earlier this year

Aleem Khan • Director of After Love
(© Mark Senior)

Born and raised in Kent, Aleem Khan is a writer and director of mixed English-Pakistani heritage. His debut feature, After Love [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Aleem Khan
film profile
]
, explores this heritage through the story of two European women, one in Dover and the other in Calais, who are struggling to cope with the death of a Muslim man. After his short film Three Brothers received a BAFTA nomination for Best British Short Film in 2015, After Love was awarded the Cannes Critics’ Week label this year, and recently screened at both the BFI London Film Festival and the Rome Film Fest.

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Cineuropa: What was the genesis of After Love?
Aleem Khan: The idea came about from wanting to explore something about my own identity: I grew up in a mixed-race family and didn't really know where I fitted into society because of that. My mum converted to Islam to be with my dad; she is a white Muslim. I think when I was around 19, there was this moment of crossover, where I was struggling with my identity and my sexuality, and my mum was also struggling with the choices that she had made for my dad. So there was this desire to explore the question of identity and how we construct it. It's not just how we construct our identities or how we find our identity; it is who we construct our identity to please.

The two central characters are white women, both of whom have very different relationships with a Muslim man whom we only get to know through their memories of him. Why did you tell the story this way?
I didn't want to make a film that was about a white Muslim or religion. That's mainly because we often see a lot of television shows where Muslim characters appear, and being a Muslim is the sole characteristic that seems to be all-consuming in terms of the way they get represented. While religion is a part of our lives, we have other identities and other facets to us. The film is about these characters. First, it's about a woman who loses her husband, which raises the question: what is left of ourselves when our other half, the person we have relied on, is no longer there? In Mary's case, she converted to Islam, she learned how to cook, she learned a new language, she evolved into a new person, and so his death brings about an existential crisis. Then she discovers this French woman who has a son by her husband, and she thinks: “Why did I do all of that for him?”

These two women have a connection through this man, but they seem very different when we first meet them.
Genevieve and Mary are different people, but in essence, they are the same. They both have to compromise to keep a relationship going.

The film's frame seems to broaden the more we get to know the women. Can you explain your ideas behind this?
We start with a close-up, with this image of the cliff, and to me, we're so in the detail that we can't fully understand what it is. By the end of the film, we can see the full picture. We wanted to develop ideas and themes using the frame. At first, Mary is always in the centre; we shoot from her point of view and hear the dialogue of other characters off screen. But as Mary becomes more embedded into the family of Genevieve and Solomon, those characters are allowed to come into the frame more and more, and there is a shift towards Solomon and Genevieve. So, in the third act, each character has their own moment.

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