Two pensioners, Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), living across the hall from each other are at the centre of Filippo Meneghetti’s debut film, Two of Us (Deux). These women are not just neighbours, friends and companions as Madeleine’s children believe, they are long-term lovers. But when Madeleine is rushed to hospital, Nina is held at arm’s length from the woman she loves.
It reads like a melodramatic plot, but the delivery is anything but. Madeleine and Nina’s relationship is complex. Nina has plans for them both to sell their apartments and move to Rome where “we can be who we want”. Plans that Madeleine appears to be going along with. But would she leave her family, and come out to them, and change her entire life? Nina thinks no-one cares about how they live their lives. Madeleine is full of caution.
When, after one particular argument, Madeleine suffers a stroke, Nina is left dealing with feelings of guilt while simultaneously trying to find ways of being with Madeleine without making the situation worse. As Madeleine recovers in hospital, Nina sleeps in her bed. When Madeleine returns with a full-time carer, Nina is forced to sneak around, stealing what moments she can.
Meneghetti manages to fill this very human tale with moments of drama, suspense and comedy that never betray the material. Watching Nina almost be caught in Madeleine’s apartment, or plot to get the carer out of the way, brings moments of real tension and also humour.
Both actresses excel here, Chevallier (although silent for much of the film) conveys a wealth of emotion through her eyes and limited gestures. Sukowa gets to move from fear, to rage, to desperation and back again. Lea Drucker is also terrific as Madeleine’s adult daughter, Anne, who becomes an inadvertent antagonist to Nina. She has simply never considered the idea that her mother would have a relationship after the death of her father. To her, Nina is simply a nice neighbour, not a long-term partner who deserves respect and family status.
Two of Us (Deux) is a beautiful film (also beautiful to look at, Meneghetti fills the screen with stunning visuals, and tight close-ups of these lovers drawing you into their romance), that hangs on wonderfully drawn performances. Sweet, sad and everything in between, it’s a winner.
By Chad Armstrong