Nina has a pointed question for Mr. Bremond, the realtor offering to help her neighbor, Madeleine, sell her home in Moselle, on the French/Luxembourg border.
“Mr. Bremond,” she fumes (in French, with English subtitles), “Do you have a problem with old ‘dykes,’ ‘lezzies,’ LESBIANS?”
No. Of course not. You can’t be judgemental in real-estate! Not in France!
So why, Nina wants to know, turning to Madeleine, can’t you tell your FAMILY about us?
“Two of Us” is a romantic tragedy about a loving couple, together for decades and having lived across the hall from other for years and years. They’re retired, now, and making plans to travel and to simplify life by making themselves a one-apartment couple.
Only Madeleine (Martine Chevalier) can’t make herself “come out” to her adult children. And Nina (Barbara Sukow), slightly younger and German, is exasperated by this.
The consequences of that fear, hesitance and indecision will batter them both over the course of this simple, emotionally harrowing debut drama from director and co-writer Filippo Meneghetti.
Madeleine — “Mado” to Nina — wants to tell her divorced daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) and son Frederic (Jérôme Varanfrain) at a little birthday gathering for her. We can see it in her eyes, hear it in her “I have something I want to say.”
But even though she desperately needs to get this out in the open, even though she has promised Nina time and again that she will, she cannot.
Neither child has a clue, but her testy son has accused her of cheating on their late father, and moments after she backs out of speaking up, he lets another “You couldn’t wait for dad to croak” crack.
For Nina, it’s not the cowering that hurts. It’s finding out from the realtor that Mado backed out of the sale. She plainly lost her nerve. Nina is furious.
She’s still fuming when she stumbles into the smoky apartment where Mado has left food burning. She’s been rushed to the hospital. She’s had a stroke. She cannot speak. Her eyes have the vacant stare of the insensate.
And Nina, dashing to her side, has no legal or social standing. Daughter Anne is puzzled. The health care system is quite firm. Nina is shut out, growing more desperate to elbow her way back into Mado’s life and care for the woman she loves.
Meneghetti, who co-scripted this with Malysone Bovorasmy, takes just enough time to let us see what love looks like. Madeleine and Nina share their days on walks, their nights dancing barefoot to “their song,” an Italian cover of the pop standard, “I Will Follow You.”
Then, this is dashed. But maybe not. If only Nina can get to her, get past her family and then the caregiver they send her home with, look into Mado’s eyes and jar her memory.
The ordeal is told strictly from Nina’s point of view, with Mado (Chevallier is a veteran of French film and the Commedia dell Arte) giving us the barest hint that the character can come back from this. Nina is sure she could “save” her and their love, if only…
Sukowa (“Gloria Bell,” TV’s “Twelve Monkeys”) plays up Nina’s desperation as the script makes her cunning enough to seek ways to make this work out for them, no matter what the family might think.
Drucker, seen in Fox TV’s “War of the Worlds,” is the picture of subtlety as Anne makes the journey from woman without a clue to woman who starts to pick up on clues. She lets us see Anne do the math, lets us see Anne trying to hide her epiphany.
The film’s brevity means some ideas are under-developed. But what we’re left with is a sublime and sublimely simple portrait of a love that’s been lived in and the devotion it will take to ensure that endures.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, adult themes
Cast:Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker, Jérôme Varanfrain
Credits: Directed by Filippo Meneghetti, script by Malysone Bovorasmy, Filippo Meneghetti A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:35