If I describe the plot of Two Of Us, France’s 2021 Oscar entry, to you, I’m afraid you’ll check out and write it off as another coming out story. Which, to be fair, it is. But it’s not a coming out story you’ve seen before, and I mean that in several different ways.
Two Of Us, simply titled Deux in France, follows Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeline (Martine Chevallier), two retired women who’ve been in a lesbian relationship for 20 years, but have been posing as neighbors, as they try to navigate a health emergency that throws their relationship — and their dreams of moving to Rome to live an openly gay life together — into chaos. It sounds like a drama, but it’s filmed like a thriller bordering on a horror movie, peep holes and dark rooms and frantic sneaking. That’s because Madeline has never come out to her adult children. It’s not so much that she’s afraid they’ll be homophobic, but that they’ve anchored their entire lives and identities on the lie that their parents were soul mates. In fact, they were not. Madeline didn’t love her husband and was basically having a relationship with Nina throughout their entire marriage.
Aside from the harrowing suspense, what sets director and co-writer Filippo Meneghetti’s film apart is the passion and tempestuousness of Madeline and Nina’s interactions. The visual and narrative tension, of course, ramps up the eroticism, but so does Madeline and Nina’s actual relationship, which hasn’t aged in that calm, quiet, mature way we usually think of lesbian grandmas. Nina, especially, has been simmering with rage her entire life because of Mado’s inability to be honest with her family, and when she finds herself isolated from her lover and despised by her children, the full force of her desperate anger makes itself known. Nina and Mado fight and frolic like teenagers; something we hardly ever seen with later-in-life women on-screen, and especially not with lesbians.
Because of that, as I was watching Two of Us, I couldn’t really think of what movies to compare it to — but then I realized maybe the best way I could describe it is “the opposite of Happiest Season.” The criticism of Clea DuVall’s Christmas rom-com was that Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis’ relationship wasn’t believable, and so their happy ending wasn’t earned. Well, Nina and Madeline’s relationship is gut-punchingly believable, but that doesn’t mean they get a happy ending.
Meneghetti’s debut is always visceral and sometimes shocking. It’s familiar and it’s rare. It’s not a movie I’ll probably watch again, but it’s also not one I’ll soon forget.