Two of Us – Film Review

A hidden love affair spanning decades takes centre stage in Two of Us. It is a subtle but sumptuous tale of endearing love in the golden years behind closed doors. Indeed, most of the action in Two of Us occurs in the apartments of neighbours Madeleine and Nina in a passionate narrative which embraces tenets of suspense creating a sympathetic, immersive portrait of love’s complexities. It is a refreshing, nuanced portrait from a rarely seen perspective.

To the outside world, Madeleine and Nina are merely neighbours and perhaps unkindly viewed as two lonely women as Madeleine is widowed and Nina is seemingly unmarried. As such, their frequent visits to each other’s apartments and the closeness of their friendship are never under suspicion. That is until one of the couple suffers from a fateful accident which threatens their microcosm.

Director Filippo Meneghetti masterfully builds up this element of suspense as the audience remains complicit in their secret and thus unwitting observers of Madeleine and Nina’s exploits. As conditions change, Nina’s tempestuousness is further revealed, even the mere tapping of her fingernails on a cup, whilst waiting, illustrates that build up of inner tension with hints of obsession but Meneghetti’s direction is never explicit regarding this aspect. Equally, Meneghetti cleverly refuses to provide answers to the cause of the illness, which may or may not have been triggered by the other’s unexpected behaviour.

Two of Us continually places an emphasis on this degree of unspoken communication within this expressive drama and thereby draws the audience in as it elicits heartfelt, raw performances from Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier as Nina and Madeleine. The film’s strength lies in its ability to convey this underlying sense of deep-seated romanticism within the mundane and the fear of discovery.

Yet, it is the film’s grounding in reality that enables the emotional resonance to land successfully with that tense fluctuation between hope and despair for the women. It is an impressive example of a sophisticated storytelling process depicting a lifelong romance untainted by the harsh realities of life.

Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier in Two of Us
Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier in Two of Us

The simmering, respectful love between the protagonists excitedly overflows within their scenes together with undeniably strong chemistry between the actresses leading to such a rich, compelling tapestry. At first Madeline’s world is exposed through her comfortable, cosy apartment which still represents that stable ‘home’ for her adult children compared to Nina’s minimalist apartment. These subtle insights reveal the different stakes for the two women beautifully emphasised by Meneghetti.

Nina and Madeleine’s lives are so intertwined to the point of co-dependency which the film delicately demonstrates as both a source of weakness and strength during moments of serious illness. It is uncommon but welcomed for such a mature, non-gratuitous love to feature on screen without stereotypical tropes. Two of Us further engrosses with sweeping camera angles offering differing points of view and underlines that sense of observation as a key theme.  Meneghetti’s employment of fish eye lens peepholes are a useful device for this observation to occur and thrillingly amplify the film’s suspense akin to a Hitchcock or Chabrol plot.

Two of Us is a well-crafted, assured testament to the power of boundless love and memory even during moments of despair. The film evokes that sentiment that life is meaningless without love and unravels the extremes and sacrifices that may be made at personal costs to protect the sanctity of love. It is thus an intoxicating, riveting psychological character study and creates that lasting impression.

Two of Us exemplifies the multi genre film that French cinema does so well. The expression of thoughts are truly what provides the substance of the film and leaves a feeling of contentment and awe.

Two of Us is a quietly confident feature debut that is unafraid to spotlight the taboo surrounding the portrayal of elderly women in romantic relationships in French society. It is equally that confrontation for French cinema and is such a thrilling masterclass in suspense that Meneghetti’s next works will be eagerly awaited.

Two of Us – in UK cinemas and digital 16th July 

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