There’s a loving grace with which Italian filmmaker Filippo Meneghetti directs France’s Oscar submission, Two of Us (Deux). While the underlying conflict is a tad bit contrived and could easily be solved with an honest conversation with all involved, he creates a grand metaphor for the personal and interpersonal doubt that the two leads feel throughout the film. And because of that tender care he gives to his two main characters, creating a low-key visual marvel, the inconsistencies of plot are more than forgivable.
In a small town in France, Nina Dorn (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine Girard (Martine Chevallier) are a senior couple who also happen to own apartments across the hallway from one another. They are a clearly loving pair, dedicated to each other, and are planning a retirement in Rome, where they first met over 20 years previous. On her birthday, “Mado” intends to tell her adult children that she’s selling her flat and moving away, but a spat between them kiboshes the attempt. She even tells her realtor that she’s no longer interested in selling, angering Nina. After a medical emergency, Mado is nonverbal, and Nina does everything she can to work around Mado’s children to be with her and aid her recovery in hopes of resuming their relationship.
A lot of the plot motivation hinges on the fact that Mado initially can’t tell her kids that she’s a lesbian, and after her incident, neither can Nina. Especially when it comes to older women, it can still be hard to come out, as the children can interpret it as a betrayal of their father, and it certainly seems that Mado’s son would feel that way, so it makes a bit of sense for Mado to be hesitant. But for Nina, that’s just not the case. The two even have their one argument of the film because Nina recognizes that this is the 21st Century, and gay people are much more accepted than they were decades ago. Nina knows that no one really cares, but she can’t get it through to Mado before her incident. Still, that shouldn’t stop her from being honest with Mado’s daughter, Anne (Lea Drucker) and forging an understanding with her. Instead, Nina engages in a lot of unnecessary subterfuge and minor crimes to get closer to Mado, putting everything and everyone in jeopardy.
It’s a bit of a shame because this basically boils down to a standard sitcom plot trope, a lie that everyone feels they have to maintain because reasons, even though a two-minute conversation would clear the air and lead to a much better result. And in the modern day, in France of all places, this particular lie just doesn’t hold water. If it were set 40 years ago, I’d get it. If it were set in a less socially progressive country, I’d get it. But in 21st Century France it just feels out of place, especially when there are myriad other ways to get the same point across. You can have a pre-existing distrust from Mado’s kids. There could be documents and directives about how to care for her that could come into conflict with Nina’s wishes. You can get around it, is what I’m saying, and to just use an outdated cliché like “they don’t know about us, so let’s never tell them and sneak around for fear of intolerance” was probably not the best way to go.
That said, despite that core issue, Meneghetti gives us a grand presentation to offset it, playing with visuals in some truly gripping ways to keep us invested in the couple and Nina’s efforts to regain her love. As he described in an interview with Isabelle Huppert that was included with my Virtual Cinema screening, the two neighboring apartments stand as a visual metaphor. At almost all times, when we see one door open, the other is closed, meaning that even when things are at their best, there’s a sense of transgression in the atmosphere. It’s even revealed that while Nina maintains ownership of her flat, it’s basically empty. It’s a nominal front, nothing more. All her boxes are already packed to move to Rome, and for practical purposes she lives with Mado. That makes for some tremendous drama when she basically has to resume the charade of living on her own to maintain the illusion.
There’s also some fantastic camera work employed throughout the film. It opens with a lovely dream sequence where child versions of Nina and Mado play hide and seek, with Mado disappearing behind a tree and Nina cawing out like a crow as she tries to find her. There are multiple scenes where Meneghetti frames the shot just right to let one be passive in the foreground while something active happens in the background. The discovery of Mado’s emergency features a pan on the stove in one of the most subtly suspenseful moments I’ve seen in recent years. It really is just a spectacular shot.
And so, I don’t mind the “big lie” trope all that much for the story. What really matters is the love between these two characters, which is expertly acted on both sides, especially from Chevallier when she’s mute. Combine that with some simply gorgeous camera work, an absolutely divine use of the Italian version of “I Will Follow Him,” (called “Chariot”), and the cutest little kitty cat I think I’ve ever seen, and you’ve got a film that at times can be as grave as Amour yet as hopeful as some of the greatest romances.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Have you ever had to keep a relationship secret? Would you ever throw a rock through a window to get someone’s attention? Let me know!