LGBTQ+ cinema, like the majority of media, can sometimes seem to overly focus on the young and the beautiful. The glistening skin of writhing bodies in dance clubs, kissing and touching and fucking to a pulsating cultural heartbeat, a hectic energy which showcases our liveliness and youth. In Two of Us, this spirit is channelled into a love story which is much gentler, yet no less emotionally intense.
In his feature debut, French filmmaker Filippo Meneghetti introduces his protagonists with a series of cliched yet touching glimpses into the couples’ life together: Mado (Martine Chevallier) is modest and quiet, with two children and a reluctance to share her sexuality with the world, whilst Nina (Barbara Sukowa) is free-spirited and stubborn. The two women mask their relationship through pretending to be neighbours, though Nina is keen for them to come clean to their families after decades of hiding, and eventually move to Rome, where the pair first met.
Their plans are cruelly halted, however, when Mado suffers a sudden stroke, provoked by the stress of her secret and Nina’s anger at her reluctance to come out. Unable to speak, walk or look after herself, the life she had so carefully maintained unravels immediately; with nobody knowing of their relationship, there is no way for Nina to care for her partner without alerting Mado’s family of their mother’s sexuality. Sat in the hospital waiting room, devastated and waiting to receive news of her lover’s health, Nina is reduced to little more than an overly helpful neighbour. When Mado returns to her flat with a carer, Nina is forced to watch as a stranger looks after her needs, void of any love and affection.
These moments within the film—and they are frequent—are beyond heartbreaking. With Nina unable to speak of their relationship lest she cruelly reveal her partner’s secret, and Mado physically unable to communicate her wishes, the two represent the impossible reality of closeted living, both women robbed of the opportunity to speak their truth. On a deeper level, their silence indicates a mutual understanding that goes far beyond simple words: once they are allowed to be alone together, Mado’s condition creates no barrier to communication.
Two of Us may tread familiar structural ground, following the same beats as many an emotional drama, but it is in the detail that true quality is found. Supported by a superb script, performances by Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier breathe a gorgeous intimacy into Nina and Mado’s relationship, as they transform cliches into illustrations of enviable love.
Two of Us screened at LFF on Oct 11th and 12th
by Megan Christopher
Megan Christopher is a freelance film and culture journalist based in Manchester, UK. She has written for outlets such as Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, i_D and Gay Essential. Her writing tends to focus on issues of identity and sexuality. Outside of journalism, Megan’s main interests are WKD, crop tops and lesbianism.