Two of Us

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I was intending to watch Two of Us (aka Deux) a few weeks ago and in fact did watch a film called Two of Us, just not this one. That one was a zombie movie set in Thailand. This one is a tense human drama set in Paris. Do not confuse.

Although both feature a pair of women in the central roles, the females in the Thai movie were young women. The women in question here are both pensioners, a pair of secretive lesbians who have lived next door to each other for decades. To be more precise they have both lived in the apartment of Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), while Nina (Barbara Sukowa) has kept her own neighbouring place on as an empty shell, just to keep the heterosexual facade intact.

Two of Us is all about that fiction being exposed to the cold blast of reality after Madeleine gets ill, ends up in hospital and then winds up back at her apartment with a live-in carer. There’s no room for Nina in this equation, a situation only made worse by Madeleine earlier having bottled the decision to out herself to her son and daughter to clear the way for her and Nina to head off openly to Rome together.

Though closeted and fearful, Madeleine is the more sympathetic of the two. Nina has the luxury of being the single operator. No one will get hurt when she declares her orientation. For Madeleine, coming out involves rewriting decades of her children’s history, facing down (or owning up to) the suggestion that she’s been lying to them all this time, and dealing with the charge that she never really loved their father.

Anne with her mother Madeleine
Anne with her mother Madeleine

The drama builds carefully in stages – will Mado (as Nina calls her) tell the grown-up kids? Will the hospitalisation and convalescence flush the secret into the open? And then, just to add jeopardy, will Nina be found out when she starts sneaking into the apartment of the semi-paralysed Nina to grab precious moments with the woman she loves while the live-in carer is asleep? When will the other shoe drop?

Nina and Mado are yin and yang characters. Sukowa, star of the epic Berlin Alexanderplatz and a clutch of other torrid outings by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, plays the hotter, impetuous “fuck’em” side of the equation. Chevallier, an acclaimed theatre actor (and once the wife of Nicolas Cage’s dad, August Coppola), plays the cooler, more reticent and fearful of the two. Chevallier has the harder task, having only her eyes to act with once her character has been cruelly struck down.

Chevallier is helped along by a sound design that’s bold and expressionistic – crows caw (foreboding), the washing machine goes into a spin cycle (mounting tension), an unattended frying pan sizzles (danger), a teaspoon is banged on the side of a cup repeatedly (irritation).

People living in the woke, post-gay world probably won’t find an awful lot to get animated about here. There isn’t much dramatic meat on the bones, and director Filippo Meneghetti’s decision to shoot the film as an everyday drama about nice bourgeois women – warm lighting, spacious genteel apartment, cosy daily rituals – runs counter to the dramatic direction of travel, though his reasons for doing it this way are understandable.

Lives that are complete in themselves is the aim. Which necessarily means making an enemy of Mado’s son and daughter – who might be wilfully hiding from something they could have guessed at before now – as well as the sullen carer Muriel (Muriel Bénazéraf), more of a piece of work than she at first appears.

So high stakes tension isn’t the destination. That said, Meneghetti does try to up the stakes right near the end, when Nina’s exasperation boils over and she decides it’s time to dig deep and find her inner commando.

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