Two of Us

 

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A film that contains greatness within it but which is less than great itself.

 
Two of Us 

Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa

 

We have here a film that is certainly well intentioned and one that contains two of the best performances of recent times. The players concerned are the distinguished German actress Barbara Sukowa and someone primarily known for her stage work, Martine Chevallier who is billed as being a member of the Comédie Française. They play a devoted couple living in France in neighbouring apartments having chosen to conceal their sexuality. For Nina Dorn (Sukowa's role) this is not so important (she comes from Berlin and has no family close) but Chevallier's character, Mado, is regularly visited by her daughter, Anne (Léa Drucker), and by her young grandson (Augustin Reynes). Mado also has a son, Fréderic (Jérôme Varanfrain), but he in contrast to the others is not on good terms with her having always been more sympathetic to his late father.

 

Seeing a film about a lesbian couple is no longer as rare as it once was, but a work that chooses to focus on two elderly lesbians does remain out of the ordinary. Indeed, for many the exceptional performances will render Two of Us a deeply worthwhile film, but for me the sheer quality of Sukowa and Chevallier only underlines the extent to which the tone of the film fails to serve them as well as one would wish. The approach of Filippo Meneghetti as director and co-writer is fine in relation to the two central characters themselves and indeed, the film is fully sensitive to the plight of the couple that develops when Mado suffers a stroke and is unable to speak. Because their relationship has been hidden, in these circumstances Nina has no rights and no standing. With Mado returning from hospital to resume residence in her apartment but in a wheelchair, Nina is suddenly face to face with the fact that Mado's carer (Muriel Benazéraf) who regards her only as a friendly neighbour will look askance if she tries to spend time at Mado's side.

 

To my mind the sense of reality expressed so potently by the lead actresses calls for a work which, as in the films of Ozu, feels like everyday life. But what happens here is that the film adopts a tone closer to that of a thriller. The plot comes to involve a criminal act by Nina, there's a bargain that smacks of blackmail and at one point people are forced to hide in order to conceal their presence. This aspect is taken up in the visuals - it's not exactly Repulsion but it did make me think of Polanski's tortured classic. In addition, the film's climax is of a fictional kind and features a song used in a sentimental way (the lyrics are even written up on the screen!). Sadly, everyday reality is left far behind. For some this will doubtless work, but in my eyes the film became a betrayal of the deeply truthful conviction that Sukowa and Chevallier bring to their roles and in that respect I would wish to stress that, even after Mado is deprived of speech, what Chevallier conveys through her face is quite extraordinary. It is impossible to say that either one of the actresses is better than the other and, indeed, both have been nominated as best actress in the 46th César awards. Should they share this award when it is announced on 12th March, that would be justice indeed, but if the film should also win in the other categories for which it has been nominated I would regard that as lucky.

 

Original title: Deux.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker, Jérôme Varanfrain, Muriel Bénazéraf, Augustín Reynes, Hervé Sogne, Stéphane Robles, Eugénie Anselin, Gilles Soeder.

 

Dir Filippo Meneghetti, Pro Laurent Baujard and Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurentin, Screenplay Maysone Bovorasmy and Filippo Meneghetti in collaboration with Florence Vignon, Ph Aurélien Marra, Pro Des Laurie Colson, Ed Ronan Tronchot and Julia Maby, Music Michele Menine, Costumes Magdalena Labuz.

 

Paprika Films/Tarantula/Artémis productions/VOO/BE TV/Shelter Prod-Peccadillo Pictures.
95 mins. France/Luxembourg/Belgium. 2019. US Rel: 5 February 2021. Cert. 12.