Thursday 10 October 2019

Two of Us (Filippo Meneghetti, 2019)

Fassbinder favourite Barbara Sukowa gives a fine performance in this touching but rarely sentimental film which depicts a lesbian relationship between two pensioners; it's far removed from the likes of Blue is the Warmest Colour or current critical smash Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but, considering its focus on a couple of a certain age, it's arguably a more daring picture than those two Cannes-winning titles.  It's also a most assured feature debut from Filippo Meneghetti, who carefully handles material which could easily have ended up as overcooked as the scorched contents of the two frying pans which feature in key scenes here. 

Sukowa's Nina lives across the hall from Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), and to everyone in their lives they're viewed as simply being friends and neighbours.  However, the two have actually been a couple for many years, and are now planning on moving to Italy.  Nina has no family, but the widowed Madeleine has two grown-up children and a grandson, all of whom live in the same town as her.  Madeleine resolves to tell her family about her plans to sell up and move away, but bottles it at the crucial moment.  Nina is furious, and lets Madeleine know it; shortly afterwards, Madeleine suffers a major stroke.  In a very short span of time, Madeleine and Nina's relatively minor problem of how to break some news has been replaced by something truly shattering.

With surly round-the-clock carer Muriel (Muriel Bénazéraf) now looking after the stricken Madeleine, Nina no longer gets to spend much time with the love of her life, and her attempts to rectify this involve increasingly risky - and, to be honest, rather creepy - methods.  In addition to the belligerent Muriel, Nina must contend with Madeleine's daughter Anne (Léa Drucker, excellent), who initially appreciates Nina's neighbourliness - until the penny drops.  Upon realising what was going on behind her late father's back for so many years, Anne is in no mood to grant Nina any further access to Madeleine, who is now showing some small signs of recovery.

With the impressive Chevallier's Madeleine rendered mute for much of the film, it's not too surprising that this ends up largely being Sukowa's show, and she certainly puts it all in with a character who isn't, in the main, terribly likeable, yet the love and devotion she exhibits often serves to cancel out her bad behaviour - at least in the viewer's eyes.  But it's the tenderness at the heart of the relationship between these two women which elevates the film into something way beyond ordinary, and in Two of Us Meneghetti has crafted an authentic, moving and grown-up piece of cinema, one which hopefully won't fly under the radar.  It screens at the London Film Festival tomorrow and on Saturday.

Darren Arnold

Images: Dulac Distribution