“Have you got a problem with elderly dykes?”
After Céline Sciamma’s masterpiece Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019), another French female-centric film attempts to approach lesbian love in a less discussed, more unique way: turning to two protagonists past their youth and well into retirement, yet irrevocably in love. Dealing with such a concept in the most beautiful and respectful of ways, Filippo Meneghetti directed and co-wrote his first full-length film Two of Us (original French title: Deux, 2019) with Malysone Bovorasmy.
The romantic drama, verging on a chamber thriller, premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, offering a heart-warming, yet never clichéd look at the older generation of LGBTQ that may still be living in fear of coming out today.
The low-key production narrates the secret love and relationship between Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier). It doesn’t resort to melodramatic excesses, bur rather focuses on controlled emotions. The two neighbours live opposite each other, moving back and forth while leaving their doors open, without anyone ever suspecting what lies beneath the superficial jokes and pleasantries.
The two women are planning on moving to Rome, where they first met back in the 60’s, but Madeleine’s family seems to stand in the way emotionally. A tragic incident wreaks havoc in the protagonists’ lives as Nina finds herself shut out of her partner’s life – since she is nothing more than the nice neighbour across the hallway.
The orange/yellow hues of the camera remind us of autumn, just like the advanced age of the two women, who are begrudgingly reduced to their neghbourly roles by society – and Madeleine’s family. Aurelien Marra’s photography makes sure that Madeleine’s apartment is both warm from the numerous family photos and memoirs, and terrifying, as these same objects become symbols of her entrapment in a lie.
Madeleine’s silence and the exaggerated everyday sounds add to the suspenseful effect of the second part of the film – almost in a David Lynch way – especially when Nina eventually confronts Madeleine. Images of the river, greeting us in the opening scene, are repeated throughout the film. In the form of a more direct metaphor, the once-open doors uniting the two women are shut by Madeleine’s children, leaving Nina outside – desperate to get back in touch with her partner.
The film boasts incredibly truthful performances by veteran actresses Sukowa and Chevallier, who easily deliver their multilayered roles in silent outbursts of emotion. Meanwhile, Madeleine’s daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) is not a character to simply accept homosexuality. Much to our consternation, she seems to strongly oppose the idea of a parent having a life and a sexual identity, despite her age. She is perhaps the character that sets the wheels in motion for the slightly thrilleresque atmosphere, as her fondness for Nina turns to despise.
The lack of past regressions, or explanations, makes the small revelations about the characters surprising. It creates a story, in which female actors, whose involvement would usually be reduced to playing the grandma of a leading lady, take center stage in order to delve into human emotions, transcending sexuality and social stigma. It’s a film about core values and true bonds that lead us to stay true to ourselves, despite any adversities.
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