It would be easy to label The Aftermath as a love triangle drama that brings little new material to an age-old film subject. Many reviews have already made this argument, but for me, this is a narrow exploration of the film. In my view, The Aftermath is a far more nuanced and interesting film than the love triangle sitting at its heart.
Taking place in Hamburg after the allied bombing of the city at the end of the Second World War, The Aftermath challenges our perceptions of victory and success in the face of the civilian impact of war. There are fascinating social issues present in this multi-layered and beautifully shot piece of filmmaking, ranging from bereavement in war, through to the impact of beliefs and actions in military force. The Aftermath is not a simple romantic triangle, but rather a triangle of the social, personal and emotional impact of war on all civilians. Our characters judgements based on nationality, identity and perceived political beliefs show how war not only breeds segregation but also encourages a view of countries as being unanimously supportive of the political beliefs leading to conflict. This is, of course far from the truth of war, with many people not supporting the actions of their governments or leaders.
The Aftermath is not afraid to tackle those issues of perception, judgement and reality, something truly commendable for a 1940’s period piece. Equally, the film adeptly explores the impact of bereavement, renewal and personal unwillingness to move forward from an all-consuming war.
Performances are strong, engaging and emotional in construct particularly from our main cast (Knightley, Clarke and Skarsgard) demonstrating the shared impact of war on individuals from differing social and cultural backgrounds; acknowledging that war has victims on both sides of the conflict.
The direction is solid with beautiful cinematography portraying the end of the war in a winter frame. With warmer colours used to focus on the breaking down of social boundaries and emerging realities of the war ending.
The Aftermath is not a perfect film, suffering from a lack of development in its core romantic plot, and a slightly Hollywood sheen. However, it does give us a multi-layered and sensitive exploration of the personal, social and emotional effect of war and civilian loss across cultural boundaries.