Two of Us is a surface level romance, although its true nature is, oddly, horror. It isn’t the film’s imagery or plot that make it so, but a deeper and harsher reality that’s almost hard to fathom: Homophobia is alive and well.
Nina (Barbara Sukowa) lives across the hall from Madeline (Martine Chevallier). To everyone in their lives, the women appear to be casual friends, but in secret they’re longtime lovers. Even as society errs more toward approving of their relationship over time, the pair’s hush-hush goings-on remain a secret until Madeline has a stroke, putting Nina in the heart-wrenching position of battling her partner’s nurse and family, all of whom see the once friendly neighbor as increasingly strange and dominant. Those familiar with the canon of queer film might expect such a story to zero in on the injustices, and while it was probably tempting to go that route, director Filippo Meneghetti’s first feature makes internalized homophobia a very real antagonist.
Two millennia of oppression makes all kinds of love risky in the mind, even when the world ostensibly shouts its support; Meneghetti’s minimalist take keeps us behind the walls of the women’s apartments, making any exodus feel more akin to agoraphobia. He tells the tale -economically, with no minute or scene dedicated to pointless fluff, which makes for a brisk run time, Two of Us becomes a wonderfully quick and cohesive introduction to queer cinema from a filmmaking newcomer.
Sukowa channels Nina’s rageful woman and transforms her anger over familial fear and the world itself into a sort fierce bit of protection. Chevallier, meanwhile, has the monumental task of communicating without words and physicality. Denied easy communication, she gives every post-stroke scene a layer of tension atop Nina’s own turmoil. Two of Us, then, is properly intimate—a work that knows its boundaries and thrives in the ultimate simplicity of a story told well. The burn is slow, but the merging of confident filmmaking and a familiar but looming terror asks us to hold out a little longer as each scene ticks on toward resolution.
+ Skillful, smart, and tight; Sukowa’s emotional weight
– Wouldn’t hurt to give another few scenes to the subplots