It’s hard to quantify quite what effect this powerful lesbian drama will have on you. Two of Us is not a typical love story, nor is it a typical drama. It doesn’t beat its audience over the head with exposition, nor does it grant them full access to everything occurring within its various set pieces. It is a bleak film filled with sadness, regret, and guilt, and yet also one punctuated by love, tenderness, and passion, with moments of hope, joy, and humor.
Filippo Meneghetti’s film, co-written with Malysone Bovorasmy, follows an older lesbian couple, Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), who have kept their love hidden for decades, but now, after the death of Madeleine’s husband, are free to sell their neighboring apartments and leave France for Rome, where they first met. All they need is for Madeleine to break the news to her children — a task halted by insecurity and uncertainty, leading to a tense falling out between her and Nina.
A vicious exchange during that falling out plunges Nina into despair after Madeleine suffers a stroke, her children assigning a caregiver, their truth and life together left unspoken. Forced to watch from across the hall as her love slowly recuperates, guilt and desperation eat away at her as she tries desperately to find reasons to see and spend time with Madeleine.
Without giving too much away, Two of Us quietly, devastatingly unpicks the ties that bound Nina and Madeleine’s life together, keeping it from view of the outside world. Sukowa delivers a masterclass performance, switching on the fly between any number of emotions — elation at Madeleine’s progress, anger at being kept from her, deep-rooted love in small moments of tenderness with her life partner. One notable scene that Sekowa knocks out of the park takes place the first night Madeleine returns from hospital, as Nina must remain in her apartment and look at empty cupboards and bare rooms, her entire life clearly lived across the hall with Madeleine. Forced to eavesdrop and peer out of her peephole to figure out what’s going on, Meneghetti keeps the audience in the dark and on edge alongside Nina, as she quietly tiptoes across the hall and into Madeleine’s apartment — her apartment — to sit with her, or share memories with her, or climb into their bed and hold her tightly.
The narrative’s masterstroke is that it continues to unspool, stretching things further as Madeleine’s daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) discovers uncomfortable truths about her mother, and further separates Nina from Madeleine — which in turn only increases Nina’s desperation. The film often descends into dark places, such as Nina’s nightmares while in bed alone, or, in one deeply unsettling scene, as Anne tells Nina that her mother only had one true love, her abusive father, who “tyrannized” Madeleine — all while Meneghetti zooms into Madeleine’s open, unblinking eyes, as she sits between Anne and Nina at the table. Credit is also due to Chevallier for her performance as a silent, recovering Madeleine, seeing her life manipulated and maneuvered without her consent, unable to stop her separation from Nina despite evidence of its harm. With a simple glance, Chevallier conveys a thousand, unspoken words.
With Two of Us, Meneghetti delivers not only one of the most compelling lesbian films ever made, but does so while also tackling aging, the secret lives many LGBTQ people lead, and the lengths some will go to in order to protect those they love. It is an incredibly moving, richly conveyed, powerfully acted, and beautifully constructed film that everyone should see.
Two of Us screens as part of this year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets or festival screening passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org.
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