Int’l Critics Line: Todd McCarthy On France’s ‘Two Of Us’

Todd McCarthy
·3 min read

A vibrant account of a long-term love affair between two aging women neighbors takes on teasing Fatal Attraction overtones in Two Of Us, the sharp-minded and shrewdly styled feature debut by French director and co-writer Filippo Meneghetti.

First screened at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival and this year’s submission from France to the International Feature Film Oscar race, this insinuating drama can be said to offer something novel to the screen: an amour fou partly set in a nursing home. The unusual mix of a quasi-Hitchcockian approach with modern sexual politics marks Deux, as it is known in its home territories, as a potential sleeper not only with art house denizens but with stuck-at-home viewers up for a taste of something different. Magnolia has set a February 5 domestic release, in theaters where possible and on all PVOD digital platforms.

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Meneghetti begins with a game of hide-and-seek between two girls, and it’s a charade the two leading characters, Nina and Madeleine, have been playing for years — curtaining off their carnal involvement from everyone, including immediate family, while conveniently living in adjacent apartments in the same building.

In even slightly earlier times, this would have been considered a discreetly civilized arrangement, respecting the old social proprieties while following their true natures in private. An early lusty session in a bathroom, along with a display of the joy the two women take in dancing, amply indicate that the heat still burns within them both. Cawing crows seem to like their company.

Madeleine, or Mado, which she goes by (Comédie Française stalwart Martine Chevallier) is the older and more conventional of the two, but startles her “neighbor” Nina (longtime Fassbinder and Margarethe von Trotta regular Barbara Sukowa) by announcing she’s prepared to sell her flat in their unspecified French town and move to Rome to live out their lives there.

But after promising Nina to announce to her family not only her intention to move but the true nature of her relationship with her next-door pal, Mado can’t summon the courage to go through with it. This infuriates her lover, who’s tired of waiting. Mado’s response to all the stress is to have a serious stroke. Like Liv Ullmann in Persona, Mado goes mute and, once back in her apartment, she’s put under the care of toad-like nurse Muriel (Léa Drucker), who immediately comes into conflict with Nina over who know what’s best for the patient.

If it hasn’t already, Two Of Us now turns into a very enclosed, claustrophobic affair involving illness and manic possessiveness, as Nina and Muriel maneuver for the upper hand in who has the last word where Mado’s welfare is concerned. Constant frissons of tension stem from the uncertainty over whether or not the silent Mado can understand all the anxiety she’s stirring up while those charged with her care play an ever-escalating game of emotional chess that proves more gripping than one is expecting.

In his first feature outing, which is set mostly in Montpelier, Meneghetti, who has made three shorts, exhibits an expressive knack for keeping the visuals lively and interesting in very close quarters, a virtue to which cinematographer Aurelian Marra and production designer Laurie Colson contributed significantly. The three main actresses rise to the occasion as if fueled by piss and vinegar, so juicy are the parts they’ve been handed.

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