After the Fire

After the Fire
After the Fire
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The fire aftermath or Avant que les flammes ne s’éteignent, reflects that same message: the police are our protector but not always. We still see this today in America, like what happened in 2020 when George Floyd was murdered and more recently, a Seattle cop killed a young woman while he was driving and her bodycam captured him saying “I might just write her an $11,000 settlement check because she has limited value,” (via NPR). Not only is it an American problem; many other countries’ police forces share in the guilt.

French Moraleh Tontonde’s first feature film After the Fire will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mehdi Fikri wrote and directed the film and it is set in Strasbourg suburbs of France. The official cause of his death, according to the statement released by police after shooting him is that he died from epilepsy caused by drug use. Malika (Camélia Jordana), Driss (Fianso) and Nour(Sonia Faidi) Karim’s siblings know better than to believe the police report — this happens too frequently among people from their ghetto community. They therefore intend to take legal action with help of Samir Guesmi who is a community organizer.

All attention turns on Malika when they make progress with their quest for justice and systemic transformation that impacts on news items. Even if she feels deeply involved in this movement, there are things about Malika that expensive attorney Mr. Harchi cannot halt her life from proceeding ahead of itself. With time though, justice becomes unfair to herself as its demands interfere with being present for her son Emir just as much Boubacar’s retail business suffers greatly due to it involving all their time in dealing with customers every day. Besides, Malika isn’t alone fighting since her siblings and their community stand beside her.

Fikri’s screenplay is brilliant in After the Fire. For example, most films that are about human rights usually have a central aim involving societal aspects pushing forward everything else but Fikri never takes his mind off the family he presents here. They are not just props for Fikri to state out his political opinion which happens often with first time directors who want to give social commentary. We are invited into their homes—where we dine, mourn, laugh, cry and reminisce with everyone involved—so that we never lose sight of the fact that this film is primarily about a group of people coming together for one cause against all odds.

In that respect, it should be noted that the entire cast ensemble deserves kudos because Jordana, Fianso and Faidi make an infectious trio. When you grow up having siblings you can relate to this hard-to-explain energy between brothers and sisters like where love can manifest as well as anger so quickly. In one scene they’re sitting in a car and because Nour is the youngest of them Malika and Driss tease her yet in another breath they sing together like siblings always do. It’s at these moments when After the Fire becomes its most powerful for me because it allows us time off from those broader political questions.

However, Jordana is the star of the movie. In a similar way, Malika bears the onus for causing pain to her siblings and family as well as being responsible for her cause while Jordana’s acting shoulders the weight of combining two key points of “After the Fire”, political plotline and intimate family story with such gentle touch. Even so, when she is at her strongest moments, there are times when Jordana can somehow locate those doubts deep within yet bring them out to light; alternatively, when Malika is at her weakest point you cannot miss that fire in Jordana’s eyes which still gives one hope.

In conclusion, After The Fire stays true to its title by toning down its tone throughout its narrative from acting performances to other technical aspects, noting that nothing else should take our mind off what matters most. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to disregard how Romain Carcanade shot and colored every scene in this film subtly thus making it a visual feast that beautifully reflects on the duality of narration.

The colder hues predominate in external settings like Karim’s case- focused home scenes either during street demonstrations or while talking to journalists thereby highlighting how harsh reality persists with respect to Malika herself, her siblings as well as their community: because regarding police prejudice, complete indifference and unwavering brutality have made a cold world very cold indeed. Still some warmth flows through Malika’s house where many strongly burning candles give strength during confusion. Ultimately however one candle may not generate much heat but several candles put together do produce enough heat for it.

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