Film Review: Decades Later, the WW II Story Seen in “The Aftermath” Still Hits the Heart

By Liz Lopez

Rating B –

It is never easy to watch scenes of war – in any country or any era – and the opening scenes of “The Aftermath” shows the viewers what Hamburg, Germany looks like after the World War II bombing. The first part of the city we see is destroyed and should not be inhabited, but residents left homeless and in the street take shelter among the ruins. Soon after, scenes of a multi-story manor in the countryside come into view, totally opposite of the devastation. While reconstruction efforts are in effect, British Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), is leading the assignment and has his wife Rachel (Keira Knightley) come live with him. This splendid estate is commandeered by the English Army from the owner, a German architect, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and teen daughter, Freda (Flora Li Thiemann) who resides with him. James Kent (“Testament of Youth”) directs the adapted screenplay by Anna Waterhouse, Joe Shrapnel and Rhidian Brook, author of the novel by the same name. What happens under the roof of this estate and in the streets of Hamburg is what viewers have to look forward to in this story- a mixture of drama, war and romance.

The blending of genres in the film may appeal to some viewers and others may see the flaws in it. There is all types of damage, aside from the structural, the characters are dealing with personal loss and emotions that they have not dealt with, let alone spoken about (currently known in our present life as seeking mental health treatment). Each character in the Hamburg manor tries to deal with their own emotions in a different manner, especially after Col. Morgan allows Stefan and Freda to stay upstairs in their own home, instead of displacing them and sending them off to live in a camp. Although Rachael initially objects, getting to know the housemates takes on a new meaning when Lewis continues to behave as cold as ice towards his wife.

Once the romantic triangle begins (this is not a spoiler – it is already revealed in the trailer), there are more than enough scenes to show us how hot and steamy the affair becomes, with gorgeous garments designed by costume designer Bojana Nikitovic hiked up, off and on the floor. I am not a prude, but the filmmaker’s decision to have as many nude/love scenes takes the drama in a different direction that I was not anticipating, perhaps is not even necessary. The romantic clichés may be appealing to some, but the scenes detract and almost make it feel as if it is a “made for TV” soap opera film.

If viewers can get through the scenes of amor, then the film takes a turn back to examine what is behind the chill between Rachel and Lewis. The scenes between the two characters discussing the heartbreaking personal loss they share are excellent. Late in the film, Clarke has a very moving performance as we see him discover that Rachel has left something for him in their bedroom. Rachel makes a choice for herself and her love. This performance is one I have never seen this actor deliver before – and makes up for some of the filmmaker’s choices earlier in the film.

The film also stars Martin Compston, Kate Phillips, Jannik Schümann, Fionn O’Shea, Anna Katharina Schimrigk among the large cast.

MPAA rating: R, for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images.

Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. (English, German dialogue)

Opens Friday, March 29, 2019 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – Mueller and Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills but check your local listings for others.

Source: Fox Searchlight

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