With recent acclaimed releases like Ammonite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only way to get a lesbian film made is with a series of costume-clad seaside sex scenes. Fortunately, if you feel like you’ve seen one two many corsets lately, Filippo Meneghetti’s electrically-charged debut feature Two Of Us comes, right on cue, with a wholly original and contemporary take on the romance genre.
Mado (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) are two 70-something women in a decades-long secret love affair, living across the hallway from each other in a sleepy provincial town. Sharing the top floor of their building to themselves, the pair waltz freely between apartments, an oasis of calm in which they listen to Italian pop music and plan on moving to Rome, where they’ll “be able to be whoever they want to be.” There’s only one thing holding back their departure: Mado hasn’t yet confessed her plans to her children, and doing so would mean admitting that her relationship with their father was founded on lies.
But when Mado has a sudden stroke and loses the ability to communicate verbally, suddenly the banalities of everyday life become host to acute tension. Mado’s carer, who looks after her with harsh sterility, forces Nina out of the picture, and the doors shut on their shared space. With Mado denied the ability to speak and Nina unable to reveal that she is more than just an over-involved neighbour, the couple is resigned to a life of agonising silence. Barbara Sukowa, known for her collaborations with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is quietly unflinching in the face of adversity; though Nina has to succumb to interacting with her partner through only the peephole in her apartment door, her stubborn rebellion sparks an elaborate mission to pull her way back into Mado’s life.
With a nimbly-sculpted plot co-written by Meneghetti and Malysone Bovorasmy, Two Of Us isn’t afraid to show the nuances of family disputes and relatives that grow apart over time. Mado’s daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) is severe, poised and yet vulnerable, making it impossible to draw an impartial line between who is flawed and not, even as she begins to unravel the secret that Mado and Nina have agonised over for years.
A love story that’s filmed like a psychological thriller—peepholes, cawing crows and delightfully ominous dream-like childhood flashbacks—Two Of Us’s greatest strength is its uniqueness. The passion depicted in women of an age all too often resigned to placid weakness makes Mado and Nina’s relationship stand up to any of the conventionally attractive, young women that tend to characterise most lesbian films (and most other films, for that matter). With Chevallier and Sukowa enchanting in roles which older women are seldom given the chance to play, Meneghetti shows that both the characters in his film and the actresses who play them are capable of much more than just looking vulnerable.
Tension gives way to ease only when the camera invites the audience into moments of intimacy between Mado and Nina, with the almost complete lack of non-diegetic sound giving these moments of comfort significant weight. Nina and Mado, though one is stubborn and the other vulnerable, are two sides of the same perfect coin. With chemistry so palpable and circumstances so torturous, Two Of Us is an emotionally intense portrayal of how enduring love can provide the strength to communicate, even when physical ability is denied.
Although the focus on surveillance and hiding that snowballs through the film does little more than subvert the romance genre, Two Of Us is a slow-burning love story that builds gradually in tension and intensity. It’s a wholly original film with a soundtrack that will echo inside you long after the final credits have rolled.
Two of Us will be released digitally and in cinemas on 16 July.
Words by Katya Spiers
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