Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa shine in Filippo Meneghetti’s achingly tragic debut.
Two Of Us begins with an ethereal game of hide-and-seek, le cache-cache, in French. Unlike the English name which has a linear cause-and-result, beginning-and-end structure, literally translated as hide-hide, the French name suggests an unending cycle of hiding. Everyone is hiding. The threat of revelation or exposure lurks everywhere. And this is most certainly true in Two of Us.
Filippo Meneghetti’s French debut feature film begins with a tender moment between two loving partners, Madeline “Mado” Girard (Martine Chevallier) and Nina Dorn (Barbara Sukowa), but the camera remains still, voyeuristic, as the couple fades into the shadows of the bathroom. The first of many hidden things. As light breaks across the table it becomes clear Mado has a lot on her mind. She wants to move to Italy with Nina but hasn’t found a way to tell her children about moving, about Nina, about being queer at all. She hasn’t found a way to tell her children a lot. In fact, Mado can’t bring herself to tell family, doctors, realtors, or anyone.
But Mado’s moment to say something passes. In a cinematically uncanny moment, Nina suddenly finds herself alone with the secret and then shut out from it entirely. Her whole life on the wrong side of the door. For the rest of the film, she will do whatever it takes to get back inside, expose the necessary truths, and build an unhidden life for her and Madeline.
You have to care about these women in order for this to be successful and the main love triangle between Meneghetti, Chevallier, and Sukowa pays off in spades. Madeline’s thoughts and brain are of vital importance and Chevallier shows these inner workings quite delicately.
Chevallier brims with pathos in such a way that possesses every vital closeup on her expressive eyes — ones that need to say more than her character ever could.
Always as if she is thinking before and while she speaks, Chevallier deftly plays with the layers necessary for a woman dying from holding back her happiest secret. An intimate moment with her grandson shows you how crafted Madeline is, how much of an inner life she has built that only Nina, the camera, and her grandson are privy to. Chevallier brims with pathos in such a way that possesses every vital closeup on her expressive eyes — ones that need to say more than her character ever could.
Her intensity is only matched by Sukowa, who equally uses every close up to express her fear, frustration, and helplessness. It’s an aching performance to watch. Nina thinks she lives in a liberal world, but with one sudden stroke of fate, is confronted with the hidden and bitter ugliness buttressing her world. You can see her desperately trying to keep the secret, but not really knowing why she’s doing it. She plays cache-cache with herself; elle se joue à cache-cache.
Through her skillful and dynamic performance, Sukowa shows us that behind this illogical grammar lies a hidden reality that is all too logical, too real for queer people even today. You feel her pain, yes, but you also feel a palpable sense of strength and resilience emanating from Nina so much so that we remain aligned with her even when her actions become drastic.
Two of Us could have easily been a farce — A woman hides her queer late-in-life-love from her judgemental family while trying to sell her apartment and move to Italy. People perform identities, people coming in one door while someone else exists another, dropped clues, the whole lot. But Meneghetti plays it like a taught domestic thriller.
In doing so, Meneghetti forces open the all-too-prevalent queer narrative trope of having a partner conceal their queerness for the sake of the other partner’s family (The Birdcage, Happiest Season, etc) to expose the genuine threat that lurks underneath. Hiding, though done out of care and preservation for the family unit, only actually leads to danger and violence. We can’t keep hiding forever, cache-cache-cache-cache-cache-cache. But fortunately, Two of Us offers a way out, an ending to the cycle of hiding, and it’s through raw, exposed, and revelatory Love.
Two of Us comes to virtual cinemas February 5th.