“Two of Us”, which was selected as the French entry for Best International Film Oscar in last year (It made the shortlist of fifteen films early in this year, by the way), begins its story with the warm and sensitive depiction of one loving couple to observe and admire. Although the movie does not show and tell much about their past, the longtime affection between them is palpable to us to say the least, and that is the main reason why we come to empathize with their following desperate circumstance.
They are Nina Dorn (Barbra Sukowa) and Madeleine Girard (Martine Chevallier), and the first act of the movie shows a rather amusing aspect of their daily life of many years. On the surface, Nina and Madeleine are simply very close neighbors living right next to each other on the same floor of an apartment building, but they usually spend time together in Madeleine’s apartment, and, just for keeping their appearance intact in front of others, Nina always has to go to her official residence whenever somebody else comes to their cozy love nest.
While Nina is relatively more open and honest about her sexuality, Madeleine has not revealed their relationship yet to others including her two adult children, who still think their deceased father was the only love in their dear mother’s life although Madeleine actually did not love her husband much for a good reason. Nina wants her partner to come out of her closet sooner or later, but Madeleine understandably hesitates because of her fear of getting rejected by her two children, and she frustrates Nina more than before as she subsequently comes to change her mind about selling their apartments and then moving to Rome, Italy for living more openly and happily together.
And then there comes an unexpected trouble for both of them. On one day, Nina finds Madeleine collapsed on the kitchen floor, and it later turns out that Madeleine has a very serious case of brain stroke. While quite devastated by this sudden illness of her longtime partner, Nina still cannot reveal anything to Madeleine’s two children, who simply regards Nina as their mother’s very close neighbor/friend while showing some obligatory gratitude to her help.
Anyway, things become quite complicated for Nina when Madeleine returns from the hospital shortly after regaining her consciousness. As Madeleine is taken care of by one of her two children and then a nurse subsequently hired by them, Nina, who really begins to live in her official residence now, drops by Madeleine’s apartment as frequently as she can, but she soon finds herself limited a lot by Madeleine’s children as well as the nurse, and, as a woman who has been inseparable from her longtime partner, she cannot possibly stand this at all.
At least, Nina has the key to Madeleine’s apartment, and that leads to a series of amusingly suspenseful moments during the second act. Even though she is well aware of the risk of getting herself exposed along with her longtime partner, Nina cannot help but sneak into Madeleine’s apartment at every night, and she is simply happy to be with Madeleine again in their bedroom, though Madeleine remains quite still and nearly inexpressive due to her illness.
After carefully establishing what is being at stake for both Nina and Madeleine during the first two acts, the screenplay by director Filippo Meneghetti, who previously made several short films before making a feature film debut here, and his co-writer Malysone Bovorasmy takes several plot turns as expected, but it also surprises us as showing more of how strong the emotional bond between its two heroines really is. After one certain inevitable moment later in the story, Nina becomes quite more driven by her love than before, and we are not so surprised when she suddenly commits a rather violent act at one point. In case of Madeleine, she frequently seems to be away from others around her despite her notable physical recovery, and her two children do not expect much from her, but then there comes a little poignant moment when she comes to find a simple but clever way of expressing how much she misses Nina – and how desperately she wants to see Nina right now.
The movie surely depends a lot on the strong duo performance from its two lead actresses. Barbara Sukowa, a German actress who previously drew my attention for the first time for her good performance in Margarethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” (2012), is fabulous as deftly conveying to us her character’s growing anxiety and frustration, and she and Martine Chevallier complement each other well as two very different people who have loved and known each other for many years. Although she often seems to be only required to be silent and expressionless later in the story, Chevallier subtly lets us sense that her character is as desperate and frustrated as Nina, and she and Sukowa ably carry the movie together right up to the very last scene, whose dramatic emotional power is something you have to behold and appreciate for yourself in my inconsequential opinion.
In conclusion, “Two of Us” is a small but excellent queer drama film which deserves to be mentioned along with “Carol” (2015) or “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019), and I really admire those sensitive moments tinged with yearning and desperation in the film. After all, any good love story is spiced with yearning and desperation to amuse and touch us, isn’t it?