After Fall, Appellate Judge Tom Becker hibernates.
"There's a big difference between you thinking your life is interesting and anyone else thinking it is…and let me assure you…no one does." —Wise words from a dominatrix
From what I've read online, there appear to be two schools of thought on Eric Schaeffer: he's a sensitive genius, or he's a hack and a douche. I'm not sure who's in the former camp, but many Internet film reviewers seem squarely in the latter. After Fall, Winter was the first Eric Schaeffer movie I'd ever seen, and even if I had never read a single word about the guy, I would have walked away from this film solidly on Team Douche.
After Fall, Winter isn't just a bad movie, it's an obnoxious one. Every frame weeps pretension, and at one point, the insufferable lead character weeps: in gratitude when a bill collector offers to enroll him in a payment protection plan for his credit card—even though he's half-a-million dollars in the hole and three months overdue with a payment. Unfortunately, that moment, which would have been priceless had this been a comedy, is no more preposterous than anything else that happens here.
After Fall, Winter is a sequel to Fall, a film Schaeffer made in 1997. In Fall, he played Michael, a writer-turned-cab-driver who had an affair with a supermodel (take that, Louie De Palma!). Now, it's 15 years later. I don't know what Michael has been doing, but it's not writing best sellers: as the film opens, he's $600,000 in debt and can't sell a book. He moves out of his pricey New York City apartment into smaller digs in a "bad" neighborhood—we know it's a "bad" neighborhood because a bunch of guys who appear to belong to the Latin Kings street gang are hanging out on the stoop. Schaeffer spends a lot of time showing us how miserable the entitled Michael is living amongst the common folks. Presumably, he could whip up another successful book, but as he explains to his agent, he doesn't want to write the kinds of things people want to read, so rather than sell his soul and write, say, Twilight, he's stuck living with the Latin Kings.
A break in the malaise comes when Michael gets an invite to move to Paris (?!). There, he meets-cute the beautiful Sophie (Lizzie Brocheré, One to Another). Naturally, she's smitten with this guy who's dead broke, has no prospects, talks about nothing besides himself, and is old enough to be her father. (At one point, Schaeffer tries to soften the age-difference blow. He mentions that his first novel was published in 1986; Sophie says she was born in 1985. Michael asks her if she's OK dating someone 15 years older than she is. While shaving nearly a decade off Schaeffer's actual age makes things a bit more palatable, it also means Michael would have published his first book at 16.)
Sophie works as some sort of freelance hospice provider. She has the good fortune to care for terminally ill people who don't look sick and who die by simply closing their eyes and smiling, so she's spared all that yucky stuff like death rattles and labored breathing. But she also has a secret night job as a dominatrix. Quelle chance! Michael is a secret masochist who pays women to smack him around and tell him what a failure he is! And neither knows about the other! It's like Pillow Talk with strap-ons!
Unfortunately, when the subject of S&M (that's sadomasochism) comes up between S and M (that's Sophie and Michael), she mercifully declines the invitation to sodomize her swain, thus leading Michael to do something idiotic, which causes Sophie to do something even more idiotic. The end.
Schaeffer serves up this silliness up with such an absurd level of seriousness that you'd think he was remaking Schindler's List. His Michael is such an aggressively annoying character that at first I thought this film was a satire about self-absorbed dilettantes. I was pretty far into it before I realized that this was supposed to be a tragic romantic drama. And, in case you're wondering, no, it's really not daring that the conflict comes from the characters' interests in alterna-sex; quite the opposite, actually. In fact, the S&M business is treated in a depressing freakshow way, with punishment—and not the satisfying kind—doled out like a Hays Code directive. The last time I saw a film with such a conservative message about sex, it was a hygiene movie.
When the relationship crisis is that the girl of your dreams—whom you've known all of five days—refuses to strap on a hunk of plastic and bugger you, it can't help but make the proceedings feel trite, if not asinine. Schaeffer treats the character's sexuality with such profundity that it all comes off as silly. At one point, during an argument over oral sex (what else?), Sophie insults Michael by telling him to lose weight. You'd think a guy who pays women to call him names might be thrilled by this slightly degrading crack, but Michael gets peevish and goes into the bathroom to pout. When he emerges, he announces: "That's the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me."
If Schaeffer thinks that's the meanest thing, then he might want to disconnect his Internet. Fairly or not, the trashing of Schaeffer and his work seems to be a kind of online sport; "lose 10 pounds and I'll blow you" is a Valentine by comparison.
Here's what I don't get. Eric Schaeffer has been in the entertainment business for years. He's made movies, written books, had TV series…obviously, the guy has something to offer that's kept him going. So, why is his movie proxy such a drip? Why has he foisted off this wholly unlikable cipher in two films, with two more planned over the next 30 years (according to what I've read)? Michael isn't charmingly neurotic like a Woody Allen character, or a sweet, hopeful dreamer, or a big-hearted guy looking for love; he's a pretentious, self-centered creep. I actually resented the time I had to invest watching him in this film—132 agonizingly long minutes. I just wanted to scream at the guy, "Do you hear yourself? Do you know how annoying you sound?"
Maybe if Schaeffer actually tapped into the things that actually do work in his life, gave Michael some sort of ambition or personality, showed him caring about something other than himself and the lure of being on the receiving end of a sexual assault; maybe if the other characters were fleshed out and weren't simply on hand to provide affirmations for Michael, we'd have something approaching insight, if not entertainment. Instead, After Fall, Winter just comes across like a twee and putrid vanity project with little merit for anyone who's not a friend or fan of Schaeffer.
The disc from Kino Lorber sports a fine transfer—the film is very well shot—and an acceptable stereo audio track.
Supplements include trailers for two other films: Modus Operandi and another Schaeffer film, They're Out of Business, which doesn't look too bad. There are also two trailers for After Fall, Winter, the Theatrical and the Unrated. While the Theatrical offers a reasonable idea of what the film is about, the hooty Unrated version is an eye opener. Like trailers for many bad movies (see Born to Ride and For the Love of Money, for starters), this one looks like it was cut for an entirely different film: all dialogue is in French, ominous music plays throughout, and it's filled with violence (i.e., Michael being smacked by dominatrices). It looks like a foreign erotic thriller, which After Fall, Winter unquestionably is not.
Like the longest, most delusional, and self-important personal ad ever made, After Fall, Winter brings self-aggrandizing wish-fulfillment to a whole new and wholly unsavory level. Avoid at all costs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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