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“TWO OF US” (‘Deux’)— Neighbors and Lovers
“TWO OF US” (‘Deux’)
Neighbors and Lovers
Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) are neighbors who have been secret lovers for decades but then a sudden change pulls them apart in Filippo Meneghetti’s “Two of Us”.
There are many real-life cases in towns all over the world where people in those communities are unaware that what passes for friendship is actually a long-term committed gay relationship. This film is a variation on that. It is a gentle love story and then takes a series of unpredictable turns as the clandestine life partners are separated by unfortunate circumstance. The story transitions from tender romance into extreme sorrow and incorporates mordant humor and unexpected quasi-thriller elements. It is a depiction of the sexual and emotional vitality of women at an age too often neutered or hidden on screen.
Set in an unnamed town in the South of France, the movie opens with two young girls playing hide and seek in the tree-lined park that runs along a river bank. Moving forward we see that Berlin transplant Nina and widowed grandmother Madeleine live on the top floor of an old apartment building, their flats facing each other across a small landing. Nina spends every night with Mado (as she affectionately calls her lover of many decades) and then discreetly slips back to her own place whenever visitors are expected. Mado is planning to sell up and relocate with Nina to Rome where they met in the 1960s.
But at a birthday dinner during which Mado plans to break the news to her divorced daughter Anne (Lea Drucker) and son Frederic (Jerome Varanfrain), she freezes up and is unable to tell them. Her adult children remain convinced that their late father was the love of Madeleine’s life. When Nina inadvertently learns of Mado’s hesitation through a chance encounter, she loses her temper on the street. She says that she’s tired of excuses and that the only person still uptight about a pair of old is Mado. But then Mado has a stoke.
The scenes that follow are shown almost entirely from Nina’s devastated point of view. Nina’s guilt over the anger she feels, eats away at her, while at the same time, she deals with the heartsickness of sudden separation. She sneaks around, monitoring the situation through the peephole in her door and using all she has to steal time with the woman she loves. This meant becoming involved in a battle of wills with Mado’s caregiver Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf), who’s not only threatened by Nina’s encroachment on her professional job, but she is also uncomfortable about the evidence of a loving relationship between the two women. hilarious.
The greater obstacle, however, is Anne who seems certain she has always been close enough with her mother to share everything. At first, Anne is grateful for Nina’s concern and her offers to help out with Mado’s care. But when the truth emerges, Anne goes into furious denial, followed by her brother, the hostile Frederic. Nina recklessly gets around their roadblocks but heroic as well.
Sukowa and Chevallier bring to life an unforgettable lesbian couple whose sexual flame still burns and whose mutual devotion is thrilling.
Meneghetti knows precisely what to do with the camera, using tight close-ups to give us the full benefit of the central pair’s comfortable joy in each other’s gaze and complicity l. They know how lucky they are to have found each other. Something as basic as the way their feet move as they dance together says a great deal. The film touches on everything from keeping up appearances and family dynamics between parents and adult children to a critique of retirement homes. Nina and Mado’s loving intimacy is gorgeous. The ending is neither melodramatic nor mawkish and does not shy away from the fact that Nina and Mado’s best years are behind them. We watch them come to terms with living out their lives in love and dignity.