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The World After Us (Le monde après nous)

The story of a writer as a young man is excellently compressed into a sleek 84 minutes in this affecting French film - from the Berlinale


The conditions that made Paris such a hub for writers in the early 20th century — cheap flats, strong communities, endless time to put pen to paper — have been more or less swept away by the powers of gentrification. Faced with paying €1,200 in rent every single month, Labidi (Aurélien Gabrielli) is forced to come up with some unusual schemes, like low-key insurance fraud and cycling for Deliveroo, in order to meet the bills.

He is a promising young French-Tunisian writer with an award-winning short story under his belt. His agent secures him a meeting with a top literary firm, who enjoy the first three chapters of his Algerian-war focused novel. With only six months to finish the book, this decision is rather complicated by his romance with Elisa (Louise Chevilotte), who he picks up in true Frenchman-style on a Lyonnaise terrasse by asking for a cigarette. He didn’t smoke before; he will now.

She’s a younger penniless student while his home is in Paris; making the move to one of the world’s most expensive places — drained of the usual romantic clichés of walking along the seine or staring at the Eiffel Tower — difficult for the young, loved-up couple, who can barely rely on their working-class parents for help. The resultant film explores the pressures of being an artist in an increasingly capitalist world, existing without a connection to one’s roots, and trying to stay in love amidst the maelstrom of modern life. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but neatly packaged in a smart, bittersweet yet ultimately optimistic package.

With a light, unaffected style with simple yet effective editing, The World After Us effortlessly brings to mind the films of François Truffaut, especially Antoine and Colette, as well as recent ‘novelistic’ French-speaking films like the work of Xavier Dolan, Being 17 and Next Year. While the New Wave is often parodied for its pretensions, it was filled with great humour; effectively communicated here when Labidi interviews for a job at a high-end optician. The comedy diffuses the self-seriousness of similar writer stories, rounding out Labidi as a man who feels like he actually exists off-screen.

As a portrait of a young man as a writer, a genre often tackled in French literature and cinema, The World After Us, partly based on director Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas’s own life, seems unconcerned with the weight of history, using its tightly-written characters and a condensation of time to easily absorb us into Labidi’s life. Aurélien Gabrielli carries his character with a deceptive simplicity, first appearing like a passive sponge before slowly turning into the hero of his own story without exhibiting any stereotypical or groan-worthy moments of growth. Accompanied by a few choice needle drops — “Knights of White Satin”, “Remember Me’ — The World After Us expertly sweeps us through these six months in a smooth 84 minutes. More novella than novel, this is a lovely slice of Francophone auto-fiction.

The World After Us plays in the Panorama strand of the Berlinale, running between 1st-5th March.

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