“I wanted to tell you something that’s very important to me….”
“Two of Us” — written and directed in his debut by filmmaker Filippo Meneghetti — is France’s submission to the International Feature Oscar race, and it’s on the shortlist of films that are being considered for nomination. Its two stars, Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevalier, are nominated for the Cesar Awards (France’s equivalent of the Oscar). It is some kind of wonderful. Not only was I emotionally engaged by the story and the acting, but I was thoroughly impressed with the way that Meneghetti has put the film together. For a first-time director, he makes some extraordinary choices.
In Montpellier, France, Nina and Madeleine — both in their seventies — have been in love since they were very young, but they kept it a secret. Madeleine (she’s endearingly called Mado) went on to marry and have children, although her marriage was difficult. Her husband was abusive yet she remained faithful for the sake of the children. “You couldn’t wait for him to croak,” says bluntly her son Frederic. Now that the children are adults and her husband is dead she is free to love whom she’s always loved.
All these years, Nina has kept the apartment across the hall from Mado, and the children have always thought of her as the neighbor who shares the top floor. This has allowed the two women to leave their doors open and go back and forth between the two abodes, the narrow landing between them serving as an extension yet concealing the true nature of their friendship. Nina discreetly slips into her home when it is needed. Now that they’re both retired, the two of them have a plan to sell the apartments and move to Rome and live in a place overlooking the Tiber. It’s endearing and oh so warm to see the love they share for one another, spending their days taking long walks and nights dancing barefoot to an Italian cover of Ricky Nelson’s “I will Follow you.” I think about all the mature male-female couples I’ve encountered in my life where one was also in a long-term gay relationship but because of the times and fear of repercussion kept their arrangement secret. Now, all that is left for Mado to do is to tell her divorced daughter and son about her plans and her secret love, something that she’s scared of doing.
The night she’s arranged a family dinner for her to reveal all of this to them, she’s unable to do so because she starts having a stroke. The words that she’s longed to say for years are unable to come out of her mouth. Nina, unaware of the ailment, finds out about Mado’s failure to communicate the truth and is livid, accusing her lover of being ashamed of who they are. “Do you have a problem with two old (expletive)?” she yells.
And all of a sudden, doors start shutting both literally and figuratively. Mado is completely paralyzed and her children — oblivious to her mother’s arrangement and affiliation to Nina — close the gap between their lives and hire a full time caregiver, Muriel. The latter is at first threatened by Nina’s impingement on her job and later repulsed by the suspicion of the unspeakable bond between the two elderly women.
And this is where the strong filmmaking skills of Meneghetti start to show. The film becomes a spellbinding psychological and physical thriller in which Nina has to fight for the love that is rightfully hers. He uses the two interconnecting apartments as a symbol of their connection and the powers outside their control that are keeping them at bay from one another. Madeleine’s apartment is filled with signs of her previous marriage and the burden of the façade that she had to keep up. Nina’s apartment is not seen at first and it starts to be revealed to you as the movie progresses. The two front doors, that have been a bridge for the two of them — and their peepholes — become part of the cat and mouse that ensues. Meneghetti uses tropes from suspense movies, including low-key lighting to up the ante. The sound design is effective – exploiting everyday sounds of birds, the spin cycle or a pan sizzling. It’s all simple and very efficient. In a way, Mado has been kidnapped, and Nina has to rescue her love. Both women are pushed to the brink of reckless desperation.
The legendary German actress Barbara Sukowa, who was both Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s and Margarethe von Trotta’s muse, gives a ferocious performance. There are some questionable things her character does but the actress’ commitment keeps us rooting for her. Martine Chevalier has the more difficult task. She spends most of the film unable to physically move and having to convey her emotions and thoughts through her eyes. It’s so moving. The two actresses make quite a duet, beautifully in sync.
I loved every moment of their company.
Nina: “Look at me. Here I am. Forgive me.”
Available to rent on Google Play, iTunes and Vudu
Written by Malysone Bovorasmy, Filippo Meneghetti and in collaboration with Florence Vignon
Directed by Filippo Meneghetti
Starring Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker, Jérôme Varanfrain and Muriel Bénazéraf
Writer and Director Filippo Meneghetti on Bringing “Two of Us” to the Screen
“My first link to the story is a personal one. In my teenage years there were two people who were very important in my life since they were the ones you passed on to me the passion for cinema … (My friends) went through similar difficulties, especially one of them, and at the time (their story) really touched me and struck me in profound ways. I always thought that if one day I have the opportunity to reach an audience, I would have loved it as a homage gesture to give something back to them. On the other end, the film is invented. The fact that the characters are aging comes from the need I feel to do something not against but about society’s obsession with youth and perfection of the body. I don’t feel comfortable with it. (This) will then make us all uncomfortable with our own bodies and our own way of existing… And since I’m a filmmaker, I feel the responsibility to make images that represent the world in its complexity. I believe that you can be beautiful – charming anyway – even at 70 years old, like the two actresses who are shown in extreme close-ups without much make-up. That was important to me.
…I wanted to show that you can be 70 and still alive and kicking. You want to love, you want to have sex and you want to experience life at its fullest. I hope I will be the same… I mean, I don’t know yet because I’m not at that age… By the way, I use cinema as a tool of knowledge. I try to make films on life issues that I wonder about. Somehow, my idea is that while making the film I will get to know more about life and about people … That’s what I really enjoy about filmmaking – the human adventure; that you can learn, understand, feel.” (goldenglobes.com)
Director of Photography Aurélien Marra on “Two of Us”
“I met Filippo Meneghetti in 2016, while he was shooting his first French short film, ‘La Bête.’ A nearly silent film, set in a fantasy Brittany in the 19th century. Very different from Two of Us ! Because things went really well between us on the short, I naturally wanted to work with him on his feature film project he’d already discussed with me while we were filming ‘La Bête.’ At that time, I hadn’t yet worked on a feature film and I couldn’t really imagine I’d be approved by the producers for that project. Especially since the film was a French, Belgian and Luxembourgish co-production with strict controls on spending in the co-producer countries, particularly in terms of salary. But in the end, mostly because of the success of the short film (selected in many festivals in 2017 and 2018), all of the partners trusted in me…”
…I had long discussions with Filippo, which started about three months before shooting did. When it was still just a screenplay, the film was written in a classic drama format. I think that he wanted his dramatic intentions to be understood by the various financing bodies. But this isn’t exactly the way the finished film turned out ; it got much more ambiguous. During preparation, Filippo explained to me how much he wanted to distill a certain irony, and sometimes even true suspense, in order to distance himself from the classical drama format. The term “thrilling” was often repeated. These discussions and inspiration from other films allowed us to obtain this result…For example, Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’ (cinematography by Bill Butler). I remember the first scene where Gene Hackman is entering his apartment. When you analyze the scene, you realize it’s made of a series of panoramic shots that are totally out of sync with the characters’ movements… The camera sometimes continues its movement while the actor has stopped somewhere. That type of grammatical motif was extremely important for Filippo, in the idea of making the camera somewhat independent from the characters. To create a sort of feeling of discordance… I can also cite ‘A Special Day,’ by Ettore Scola (cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis). There, too, the camera is somewhat independent from the scenography, but in a melancholier tone. In a certain way, this is the same technique as in ‘The Conversation,’ but applied to a different emotion. Another important film was Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Birth’ (cinematography by Harris Savides), where the slow frontal zoom shots without reframing inspired us for how to convey the characters’ introspective moments. In any case, that’s how Jonathan Glazer uses it, even though on ‘Two of Us,’ we opted for a wider zoom shot, and ended up maybe with a bit more baroque effect. Lastly, but more generally, there is Bong Joon-ho with ‘Mother’ (cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo) and ‘Memories of Murder’ (cinematography by Kim Hyung-koo), where the editing choices seemed us to constantly put drama and absurdity on an equal footing in the narration…” (afcinema.com)
About Martine Chevallier
Born in Gap, Martine Chevallier began her training as an actress on stage at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, which she joined in 1968, as well as in the School of Jean Mercure and the Comédie des Alpes troupe. She took her first steps on the screen in television films in 1970. She did not abandon the theater, however, and was introduced to Stanislavski methods during Furet then joined the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art in the class of Antoine Vitez. where she won first prize in 1974. Her first success was due to Paul Claudel’s play “L’Échange,” directed by Anne Delbée. A resident of the Comédie-Française in 1986, she became a member in 1988. Alongside a prolific theatrical career, we meet Martine Chevallier in “Jefferson in Paris,” “In His Hands,” “Don’t Worry, I’m Fine,” “Tell No One” and “Farewell to the Queen.” She also appears on television, notably in season 4 of “Engrenages” and “La Part du suspçon,” a TV movie inspired by the Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès affair. In 2020, Martine Chevallier plays one of the main roles in “Deux,” focusing on the romantic and secret relationship of two women of a certain age. Her performance, as well as that of her partner, German actress Barbara Sukowa, have been hailed by critics. Filippo Meneghetti’s feature film is chosen to represent France at the 2021 Oscars. (allocine.fr)
About Barbara Sukowa
Barbara Sukowa is one of the most internationally well-known German actresses. She has received numerous awards for her work in film and on stage…Sukowa started as a stage actress in major German Theaters. Her roles included Marion in Büchner’s “Danton’s Death” and Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Other Shakespeare roles in Europe were Rosalind in “As You Like It” and Desdemona in “Othello.” Sukowa also performed in Ibsen’s “The Master Builder.” The Marquise de Merteuil in Heiner Mueller’s “Quartett” in Salzburg Festival…In the US, she has worked in productions of “The Cherry Orchard” and in Arthur Kopit’s “Because He Can.” Her breakthrough in cinema came with her portrayal of Mieze in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980), which earned her the Best Young Actress Award in Germany. Her performance of the title role in Fassbinder’s “Lola” earned her a German Film Awards (Gold) award. Her performance in Margarethe von Trotta’s “Die bleierne Zeit” (Marianne and Juliane, 1981) earned her a Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival. She received “Best Actress Award“ honours at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival for her work in von Trotta’s “Rosa Luxemburg.” In 2008 she received Best actress Award at the Montreal World Film Festival for her role in Ulla Wagner’s “The Invention of Curried Sausage.” She is a three-time recipient of the prestigious Bavarian Film Award for her roles in the “Name of Innocence,” “Vision from the life of Hildegard von Bingen” and “Hannah Arendt.”
Sukowa has also developed a further career as a classical music narrator and singer. She has performed the speaker’s role in Arnold Schönberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” first with the Schoenberg Ensemble under Reinbert de Leeuw. Other performances have been with ensembles in Paris, London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, Salzburg, Los Angeles, and New York City with conductors Marc Albrect, Esa Pekka Salonen, and David Robertson. She has performed the Speaker’s role in Schönberg’s “Gurrelieder” with the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado, and the Los Angeles Philharmonics under Esa –Pekka Salonen, and is the Speaker on the recording with Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic. She narrated Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf both in concert and on the recording, as well as a recording of Mendelssohn’s music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She has performed in Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. She performed the speaking role in the US premiere of Michael Jarrell’s Cassandre in March 2006 at Carnegie Hall the New York City with musicians from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. At Carnegie Hall she sang the US premiere of “In The Wonderful Month of May” an adaptation of Schubert and Schumann Lieder by Reinbert Deleeuw and the Schoenberg Ensemble. The recording by Winter&Winter received an Echo Klassik, an Edison Award and a Grammy Nomination. Sukowa is also the front singer of the Band the X-Patsys , which she founded with visual artists Jon Kessler and Robert Longo. Their recently released CD “Devouring Time” was named a “Best New Release” in Germany. (barbarasukowa.com) A few of Sukowa’s recent works include “El cielo es azul” (2013), “Die abhandene Welt” (2015), “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” (2016), “My Art” (2016), “Atomic Blonde” (2017), the TV series “12 Monkeys” (2015-2018), “Gloria Bell” (2018), “Native Son” (2019), “Rocca Changes the World” (2019), “Two of Us” (2019), “Granny Nanny” (2020), “Hunters” and “Servant” in 2021.
About Writer and Director Filippo Meneghetti
“I didn’t grow up going to the cinema. It’s a passion that two friends got me into when I was a teenager. Between 16 and 18, this pair took it on them to open the doors of film to me: I borrowed films from their VHS collection, listened to what they had to say about such and such a director… They didn’t have a film background, just loved the big screen and wanted to pass their passion for it on to me. And it worked: it was thanks to their contact that I realised that film could be an interesting path to follow. When I finished high school, I took off for New York. I was hungry for new things, and wanted to travel the world. I was a waiter, all while hanging around student film sets in my free time. I went back to Italy in 2001 to study film at film school. I then registered at La Sapienza university in Rome: I took anthropology classes to learn more about how everyone sees the world. At the time I got experience by working on film sets as an assistant. It was a step I needed to do, to be sure that I wanted to get behind the camera – which I did when I was 30, filming my first short film, ‘L’Intruso’ (2012). The film was shown at the Premier Plans Festival in Angers and won the public award. Up until then my work as a film maker had something of an abstract nature. All of a sudden it took shape, it became real… (institutfrancais.com) Meneghetti’s next short films were “Undici” (2012), “La bête” (2018) and most recently he wrote and directed the feature film “Two of Us” in 2019.