Two of Us is in cinemas and on demand from July 16th.
We all have dreams about how we intend to spend our time during our retirement. For some, these dreams are rooted in holidays, travel and culture. In contrast, others wish to enjoy their garden and home with their loved ones at their side. However, for many LGBTQ+ couples who have never had the opportunity to marry, these plans often evaporate. For some, this is due to ill health, their children or extended family taking control of their life. The partners they cherish isolated just when they need them the most. While for others who love in secret, old age strips them of their relationship. Their families, unaware of the partner they kept hidden.
However, despite the challenges faced in later life by many LGBTQ+ people, whether single or partnered, old age is rarely explored. Much of this is due to the fear of age that permeates many LGBTQ+ communities. A fear rooted in loneliness due to a community built on youth. In movies, we rarely see older gay couples reflected, the cut-off age for LGBTQ+ storytelling somewhere between forty and the mid-50s. This, in turn, has the effect of ensuring older LGBTQ+ people remain invisible within their wider community.
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Director Filippo Meneghetti’s debut feature, Two of Us, is not afraid to tackle the issues of isolation and discrimination faced by many older gay couples. His screenplay, alongside both Bovorasmy and Vignon heartfelt, challenging and beautiful. The resulting film, both intricate and intimate as we explore themes of love, loss and longing. Its story, a stunning tale of love against all odds as a need for companionship forces its way through the social barricades erected in its path. But, also welcome is Meneghetti’s choice to focus on two older women. His film challenging a lack of representation for older gay couples and equally taking a hammer to the walls surrounding the representation of older women on screen.
Opening with a dream sequence featuring a game of hide and seek between two young girls, we start our journey in what feels like thriller territory. One of the girls suddenly disappearing as her friend desperately searches, her voice drowned out by the crows overhead. However, this dream only highlights the fear of separation that will come to haunt our story. Following this sequence, we are introduced to Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), two older women living in the same apartment building. Their long and loving relationship, a secret twenty years in the making. Lasting through Madeline’s marriage, her children leaving home, and her husband’s recent death.
However, despite her children now living their own lives and her controlling husband’s death, Madeleine has never been able to tell her two children about Nina. Nevertheless, the time is coming for her to do so, as the couple plan a new life together in Rome. But, can Madeleine announce a secret she has kept hidden for so long? The answer is no, resulting in a heated argument between Nina and Madeline. But, as Nina enters Madeleine’s apartment not long after, she finds her partner lying on the kitchen floor, having suffered a significant stroke. And in an instant, Nina and Madeleine’s world is turned upside down. Their secretive love, suddenly an insurmountable barrier as Madeleines children take control of her care.
While watching Filippo Meneghetti’s Oscar entry, it is almost impossible to believe that this is his debut feature. His film, an exquisitely crafted masterclass in storytelling. Here, Madeleine and Nina’s hidden passion is reflected through moments where reality, love, dreams and isolation coexist in an almost Hitchcockian atmosphere. And it is this atmosphere that allows Two of Us to transcend the boundaries of the traditional love story, becoming something genuinely unique. Its story, wrapped in the psychology of imprisonment and the power of love. Our couples secret life no longer held in a protective bubble, as Nina fights for access while publically trying to remain a mere friend and good neighbour.
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At the heart of this slice of cinematic perfection are the outstanding performances of Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier. Their characters, rooted in a complex tapestry of love, secrecy and escape. And when Sukowa’s fiery and emotional performance meets Madeleine’s less than enthusiastic home carer Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf), the film enters the realms of dark comedy. Once again, embracing its Hitchcockian atmosphere as Nina spies on Muriel through keyholes. While at the same time joyously playing with her, like a cat with a mouse, in gaining access to Madeleine.
Meanwhile, themes of care in old age find a delicate yet powerful voice as we follow Madeleine’s daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) as she tries to balance the care of her mother with her career, home life and young son. Her decisions, often rooted in what is convenient and practical for her rather than her mother’s needs. These issues reflect a world where the state is expected to pick up the pieces, as children are forced to balance their own lives and needs against those of their ailing parents.
Just two days after my first viewing, I found myself revisiting Two of Us. My second viewing allowing me to explore the small, intricate moments I had missed the first time around. And, it’s here where Filippo Meneghetti’s film is not only exceptional but beautiful, each scene captivating, each second full of care and attention. And while some elements of the story may feel rushed as we near the conclusion. Our final scenes with Madeleine and Nina are sumptuous, emotional and full of love, the camera fading out as the audience long to keep it running.