Two Of Us

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Two Of Us
"Two of Us jolts the senses - you can smell when the hot pan stays on the stove too long and want to interfere." | Photo: Courtesy of New Directors/New Films

Two little girls playing hide-and-seek by the river fashion the unexplained mystery thread throughout Filippo Meneghetti’s enigmatic Two Of Us (Deux). There are horror and thriller elements accompanying the challenging performances by Martine Chevallier (of the Comédie Française) and Barbara Sukowa (co-winners of the 2021 Best Actress Lumière Award) to go with the terrific ensemble cast of Léa Drucker, Jérôme Varanfrain, Augustin Reynes, and Muriel Bénazéraf in the director’s compelling debut feature (France’s Oscar submission, a New Directors/New Films highlight, and the Lumière Award-winner for Best First Film), co-written with Malysone Bovorasmy and Florence Vignon.

Nina (Sukowa) and Madeleine (Chevallier) go about their routines. They have two adjacent apartments and plan to move to Rome together. At night, our perspective resembles that of a spy who is watching from the other side of their shared bed. For Madeleine’s children Anne (Drucker) and Frédéric (Varanfrain), Nina is just a neighbour and not the love of their mother’s life. Madeleine’s grandson Théo (great performance by Augustin Reynes) has the best rapport with grandma and shows an unfettered spiritedness in his eyes. When things get complicated and age-old secrecy takes its toll, Two of Us seamlessly opens up the narratives into other genres.

Barbara Sukowa gives Nina a forcefulness at the start that becomes evermore urgent when trickery turns into a necessity of despair. We are allowed to jump to conclusions with surprises awaiting us, raising questions of pretence and sacrifice, betrayal and conventions. Léa Drucker accomplishes an impressive balancing act of the manifold thoughts racing through a daughter’s head when she discovers that she didn’t know her mother at all. She plays the ultimate daughter - with so many facets that every daughter can find herself in there somewhere. Martine Chevallier’s subtle and layered performance of a woman who is suffering from decades of silence suffuses Madeleine with trepidation; hers are the entrapments of humanity and our fragility.

A lot of hiding and not enough seeking set the stage. Meneghetti takes his time in letting us discover the spaces his characters inhabit, all the while nudging us to become voyeurs and burglars ourselves. Information given by one person to another, we learn, can’t be trusted. The hired caregiver Muriel (Bénazéraf) seems to step straight out of a monster lineup, were it not for the very real economic constraints determining her actions. She is characterized as much by what she does as what she doesn’t do for her patient.

Two of Us jolts the senses - you can smell when the hot pan stays on the stove too long and want to interfere. The ring of a doorbell sends shivers down your spine. Sukowa has a shower scene, after Nina finds herself in a double nightmare situation, that is simultaneously Psycho and slapstick. She journeys forward like Gerda in Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen to rescue her “neighbour” and has to become an undercover detective and use bribes and break-ins when what she really wants to do is to be able to openly give care and affection.

This is also a film about generational differences and how the time we are born into leaves an imprint on our views in many, often unspoken ways. Enigmas remain intact as the filmmaker appears to trust that his audience’s interpretations can be sundry and fruitful. Is an apartment empty because the person lives elsewhere or because the furniture was sold to prepare for a big move (this is not Jean Negulesco’s How To Marry a Millionaire where we are in on the vanishing furniture issue)? Both possibilities have grave emotional consequences. When words are no longer possible and gestures count for everything, love is the only way forward.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2021
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Two retired women, who have been in a secret relationship for decades, find their relationship turned upside down when the truth begins to come out.

Director: Filippo Meneghetti

Writer: Filippo Meneghetti, Malysone Bovorasmy, Florence Vignon

Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker, Jérôme Varanfrain, Muriel Bénazéraf, Augustin Reynes

Year: 2019

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: France, Luxembourg, Belgium


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