Rating: 4 out of 5.

(Written by Allison Brown)  

Arriving in a burst of flames, After the Fire brings a timely story of a family affected by omnipresent police brutality from a new perspective. The cinematography starts off at its peak with the opening credits and particularly, as it come to a close. A car slowly burning throughout almost engulfs the blaze in reverse to be sucked into a lighter as it is lit in a character’s hand. I immediately rewatched this stunning transition to try to decipher how it was executed.  

Set in Strasbourg, France, director/screenwriter Mehdi Fikri provides a window into the systematic racism towards the Arab community in Europe, while telling a narrative eerily similar to the fatalities mourned in the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. A poster of the victim here, Karim El Yadari, is artistically rendered in near replica style of the George Floyd art following his undue death. A disclaimer at the end hits this point home; this is a fictional story, but it is “based on the real struggle of many families” whose news footage is collected as a reel to close out the film. A somber ending without a genuine resolution makes this story feel like a true experience, as aside from press coverage, these relatives are often left without any sense of justice.  

Fikri takes it one step further by depicting how far the cops will go to cover their botched tracks. In one scene, they show up to the El Yadari house to ask for their assistance in cooling the riots and claim that Karim’s death was not at their hand. The family rightly questions their intentions, and the police retort, “there’s no point in talking to their kind.” This abhorrent language, said to a grieving family at their own private property, incites Driss (Sofiane Zermani), Karim’s brother, to assault the man who uttered it. The cops then escalate the matter even further, pepper spraying the entire family who were otherwise respectful and compliant, elderly father and all, in their own home! Driss’ life and career is later ravaged by this interaction, recalling memories of the death of Breonna Taylor. It is impossible to watch this and not feel sick unless one lacks human emotion.  

Camélia Jordana’s performance as Malika, Karim’s estranged sister, is incredible; she is clever, levelheaded, and passionate. When a first-hand account of Karim’s death is finally shared, the scene is evocatively told through the victim’s romantic partner staring at the scene of the crime as the camera slowly pans the barren space. It almost feels like an allusion to the same technique used by Maria Schrader when the assault victims share their stories in 2022’s She Said.  

After the Fire is an infuriating watch. If one did not hate cops before, they will surely leave disgusted by the audacity and callousness of the police, as well as a general distrust in the legal system. The film, partially financed by Netflix, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 10.

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