Berlinale 2021 review: The World After Us (Louda Ben Salah)

“I found an apartment. It’s clean, bright, it has wooden floors, moldings and toilets.”

We can argue that a find that is so simple and yet hard to reach says a lot about the substance of The World After Us as a film. Labidi (Aurélien Gabrielli) is a young writer who dreams of publishing a first novel after having tasted the promising success of a short story. Living in Paris where he shares a minuscule room with his best friend, he is navigating between his desire to create a better new life and his anxious métier as a delivery man. His life changes drastically when he falls completely in love with Elisa (Louise Chevillotte). Not only his life changes, but even the schemes he chooses to pursue for this fresh start take a perturbing direction. Aiming for a better life, Labidi thinks of the unthinkable at all costs and regardless of the consequences. When Labidi moves to a new and better flat with his sweetheart, he is positioned to pay the outrageously high rent all by himself. Blinded by love, he commits to that. Labidi then puts himself in the center of a personal dilemma. A dilemma that he can no longer control as he is heading with each passing day towards a shady dark closure.

One of the biggest powers of the film is certainly its capacity for creating incredibly sweet instances of bonding before fluidly transforming them into comical enchanting ones. One more beautiful aspect that never disappoints comes from the mighty work of Aurélien Gabrielli who delivers a memorable portrayal. As the film evolves and the filmmaking starts to feel predictably common, Gabrielli’s performance remains of constant exceptional quality.

The World After Us offers a moral look at the strayed French youth and its continuous fixation on a better living. The film emphasizes the ignorance of said youth when it comes to the price to pay for a quick ascension to the ranks of forged esteem. But it is when the film swiftly shifts from a sombre conclusion to a bright final chapter that matters get tricky; a late long monologue in the wake of a tragic incident serves as a writing catharsis and a denouement for our key character. A moment that may force the viewer to reassess a certain jab that was cautiously written into the film while criticizing Labidi’s decision to give a pompous name to his novel (that happens to be the film’s title as well): “Did you think you were making a French independent film?“, and for that I say “Amen!

For his first feature film, Louda Ben Salah chooses to present the identity crisis in an effective yet conventional fashion. Still, the fervor of a sensitive directorial voice is deeply felt through and through. Handheld camera movements, grimly lit shots of melancholic Parisian flats at night and writerly monologues ensue in a heavy manner, which may push viewers to the limit of their cinematic tolerance, but there is not a second that passes where we are not grasped by what we are witnessing.