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TIFF 2023 Review: After the Fire – “A great deal of planning and care has been taken”

A young Arab living in the immigrant French suburb of Strasbourg and known for being a drug user dies in police custody which leads to his family seeking answers and rioting on the streets.

Surreal imagery leads to a young Arab family going through a bonding ritual and finally to the present day where the children are now adults trying to make a living as immigrants in France.  While taking a break from her market stall, Malika brushes aside a phone call from her brother informing her that their younger sibling is in trouble again and is being detained by police; the real trouble comes when a second call leads to her heading to a hospital and discovering while outside that he has died.  The official report is that the death was caused by an epileptic seizure brought on by repeat drug use but this explanation gets called into question by the family and an empathetic coroner permits them to take photographs that illustrate a damning portrait of police brutality.  As the lies unravel it becomes a question as to whether the family has the strength and resolve to take on the establishment to ensure that justice prevails.

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Opening with reverse footage of a burning car is a surreal and effective way to say to the audience, ‘This is the end result.  Let me show you how we got here.’  Another smart narrative decision is to have facial expressions from the hospital windows announce that the brother has died sparking rioting.  A clever transition occurs when an aerial shot of the rioting dissolves from a circular playground to a wake candle.  The camera work is not flashy but obviously, a great deal of planning and care has been taken by filmmaker Mehdi Fikri and cinematographer Romain Carcanade when it comes to shot composition.  As a result, there is a visual flow to imagery that does not feel forced but naturalistic.  What does have mixed results is the slow burn to the narrative which feels a bit too leisurely and loses a sense of urgency.

The story rests on the shoulders of Camélia Jordana as she is tasked with portraying Malika as someone on the path of discovery of the truth and rediscovery of the family bond that had been forsaken.  Jordana does an admirable job and so does Louise Coldefy who is cast as her sister-in-law while Makita Samba and Sofiane Zermani are going through the motions.  The ending recognizes the reality of the situation and is followed by a double emotional wallop of footage of the deceased around the timeof his death appearing for the first time accompanied by archive footage that supports the fictional tale being a composite of what is truly happening.  Mehdi Fikri shows a lot of promise given this is his feature directorial debut and with the benefit of future projects it is hard not to imagine that the narrative storytelling will match the professional polish of technical execution.

The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7-17, 2023, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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