Two Of Us (Deux)
France (2019) Dir. Filippo Meneghetti
People seem to have forgotten that love, romance, and relationships are not exclusive to those under 40. Although some in older age groups may get a pass if they still have their looks, the idea of them being in love is not a consideration. Being old, gay and in love is even less likely a notion.
Septuagenarians Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) live across the hall from each other in a cosy apartment block, but are more than neighbours – they have been secret lovers for many years. They’ve never been together as Madeleine was married and had two children, Anne (Léa Drucker) and Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain), but her husband has died and Madeleine feels ready to come clean to her children and move to Rome with Nina.
Unfortunately, Madeleine’s loses her nerve which leads to a row between her and Nina, following which Madeleine has a stroke that leaves her temporarily paralysed and unable to speak. After a stay in hospital, Madeleine is left with carer Muriel (Muriel Bénazéraf), whilst Nina is forced to stay on the outside pining to help her love. Unable to do nothing, Nina takes matters into her own hands.
Not your typical romantic drama but that was rather obvious since the main protagonists are Sapphic senior citizens, but maybe it is an overdue topic for discussion in cinema, so kudos to Italian director Filippo Meneghetti for doing so. Two Of Us is a sweet, life affirming tale at its heart; the intentions of the characters are generally good but remain informed by the mindset prevalent in a judgemental society.
Or maybe it is simply denial by the family of a mother they only want to think the best of but only know half her story – after all, you can only make a decision based on what you know. It is important to note this isn’t about homophobia or any resentment towards the idea of two grannies – well one, Nina never married – being a couple. This is refreshing in itself but as it is not relevant to the story, it isn’t missed either.
Whereas Anna might accept the truth a little easier, Frédéric still holds a romanticised image of their father, despite Anna’s admission the marriage wasn’t a happy one, and Madeleine stuck it out for the children. Presumably this would include the last 20 years during which she began her affair with Nina, whilst Anna would marry and have a son, Théo (Augustin Reynes), whose relationship with his grandmother is the purist of all the pairings in this complex set up.
Madeleine’s stroke was brought on after Nina saw her with the estate agent she thought was handling the sale of her flat, realising Madeleine was backing out having not told her children. Nina asks the estate agent if he has a problem with “two old lezzers”, which he doesn’t, prompting Nina to declare, “See? Nobody cares!” Except Madeleine does care which is why she can’t say anything to her family, although this late in life, what does she have to lose?
There is a lot of mystery hidden behind the main story, typified by the eerie opening scene of two young girls playing hide and seek by a river, who reappear from time to time but not with any further information. It may or may not matter, giving the film an enigmatic aura to add further chills to the recurring motif of crows cawing ominously as another grey day begins.
Horror films usually set their stall out with such eerie disquiet, not romantic dramas, a dissonance Meneghetti returns to later when Nina is forced to watch her helpless love from behind the peephole of her front door. We know she isn’t stalking Madeline but the family and carer Muriel don’t, instead remain curious as to why Madeleine’s omnipotent neighbour is so intensely invested in her welfare.
Desperate to be more than a concerned bystander, Nina launches a sly plan to sabotage Muriel’s role as carer and have her fired. Under any other circumstances, this would posit Nina as the antagonist, except the sincerity of her motives is the caveat by which she earns our support, forcing us to turn a moral blind eye to her underhanded campaign, although this has consequences too.
Yet the pervasive question is who really is the victim here? In terms of acceptance for being gay, they both are; it can be frustrating as Madeleine holds her tongue but that is who she is, as opposed to Nina’s gregarious out and proud personality, but she doesn’t have a family she’s lied to all their lives. Now Madeleine is now a silent, lame onlooker to the tumult occurring between Anna and Nina.
A breakthrough almost happens but Madeleine’s inability to speak crushes all hope, played out with the same grim pathos of a kidnap victim escaping, only for the captor to arrive at the last second to drag them away. It doesn’t seem possible that our nerves could be shred in such a manner then 20 minutes later, witness such a joyous, lyrical, unspoken celebration of love.
It is to Meneghetti’s credit he is able to oscillate fluidly between tones, maintaining a steady rhythm of moods, avoiding being an uneven mess. The air of melancholy that permeates throughout the film is felt more by the audience than the characters, since we know the whole story and they don’t. Martine Chevallier’s turn as the quietly suffering Madeleine bolsters this feeling, working in tandem with the juxtaposed force of nature that is Barbara Sukowa’s Nina.
Considerably more than a domestic drama with an LGBTQ theme, Two Of Us succeeds in placing the forgotten generation of older lesbians who grew up in a less tolerant world in the spotlight. Haunted by a past preventing them from being open about their sexuality, we are asked to spare a thought for them and recognise that love doesn’t end at 40, gay or otherwise.