Joe Morgenstern at the WSJ is today’s Roger Ebert – always worth reading

I may not always agree with Joe Morgenstern, but he always has something interesting to say. By the way, there’s no link to his review of “Minari” here but perhaps you need only his own summary: “It’s wonderful. See it. You’ll love it,” altho his review of splendid turns of phrase and reasons to see it as soon as available.

The closing of live movie theatre viewing of films does seem to have allowed movies to change the month of their opening rather than avoiding the depths of winter as used to occur.  

‘Two of Us’ Review: The Urgency of a Great Love

In France’s Oscar entry, Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa play closeted lovers looking forward to a new life together.

Watch the trailer for the movie ‘Two of Us.’ Photo: Magnolia Pictures

By Joe MorgensternFeb. 4, 2021 4:25 pm ET

‘Two of Us,” France’s Oscar entry, is set mainly in a quiet residential neighborhood in southern France—the unspecified locale is Montpellier and its environs. But the story plays out on a shifting border between grand amour and amour fou—a passion burns steadfastly bright while desperation opens the door to madness. And physical doors keep opening and closing; it’s as if a modern-day Feydeau had turned from farce to romance and impending tragedy. This debut film by Filippo Meneghetti, streaming on major digital platforms, is elevated by the beauty of its performances, and by its masterly technique, which would suggest a filmmaker at the height of his career, not someone directing his first feature. Most remarkably, though, the drama captures the timeless essence of unconditional, all-consuming love through a pair of unlikely heroines, two women in their 70s who maintain separate apartments across the hall from each other.

MORE FILM REVIEWS

They met decades ago in Rome and have lived in France ever since, lesbian lovers still awkwardly and affectingly closeted because one of them, Madeleine ( Martine Chevallier ), could never bring herself to break away from her husband and family. Now, after the recent death of Mado’s husband, she and her partner, Nina, a Berliner by birth played by the distinguished German star Barbara Sukowa, have plans for a bright future—leaving France and living the life they’ve always dreamed of, together in Rome. (The film, in French with English subtitles, was originally called “Deux,” a better title that bespeaks the strength of their bond.) But Mado suffers a failure of courage, followed by a stroke that leaves her paralyzed, unable to speak and dependent on a caregiver who sees Nina only as the next-door neighbor, not her charge’s surpassingly significant other. Romance devolves into obsession, devotion into horror, as Mado grows increasingly isolated and Nina fights for every opportunity to be close to the woman she loves.

When movies are as memorable as this one, it’s seldom because the plot is stunningly original. Elements of this story have come forth in various combinations over the past few years. What gives “Two of Us” its singular power is the hurtling urgency of the storytelling and the brilliance of the acting. Mr. Meneghetti and his script collaborators, Malysone Bovorasmy and Florence Vignon, hedge no bets, observe no constraints. For the caregiver, Muriel, a drab yet paradoxically vivid woman played by Muriel Bénazéraf, Nina becomes an adversary in an undeclared custody battle. For Mado’s daughter Anne ( Léa Drucker ) and son, Frédéric ( Jérôme Varanfrain ), their mother’s friend and neighbor is inexplicably intrusive. (The siblings’ naiveté may seem equally inexplicable as described, but it’s believable as dramatized.) For Nina, meanwhile, proximity to Mado is nothing less than a matter of life or death.

Which is how the actress plays it. In the radiance of her youth Ms. Sukowa was the protégée and muse of the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and later the star of hard-edged political films by Margarethe von Trotta. Her performance here is fearless, to say the least; it’s also fevered, frightening and transcendent, with no concern for clear boundaries, just as Nina’s behavior is, by turns, selfless, selfish, admirable, reckless and self-destructive. (Depending on the scene, the superb cinematographer Aurélien Marra makes Ms. Sukowa look shockingly haggard or startlingly beautiful; the truth of the moment trumps the aesthetics.)

Martine Chevallier in ‘Two of Us’PHOTO: MAGNOLIA PICTURES

And one great performance is reflected, and complemented, by another. Ms. Chevallier’s portrayal of Mado, so full of life at the outset, becomes of necessity a study in mysterious nuance. In Mado’s diminished state, how well does she understand what’s happening to her? What is she feeling as she sits in her wheelchair, gazing into an unfathomable mid-distance?

Ms. Chevallier has been best known for her work in the theater—her screen credit in this film reads “Martine Chevallier de la Comédie Française.” Some stage actors, accustomed to projecting, must make an effort to reduce the size of their performances when they’re in front of a camera. That’s hardly the case here. Mado speaks volumes with her darting eyes. She suggests shimmering emotions with the faintest smile. It’s a guessing game for Nina—and us—at first, then an ardent connection with a silent soul. During the course of its 99-minute running time, “Two of Us” pulls us in and never lets go. Who knows what movies Mr. Meneghetti will be able to make once he gets a little more practice?

Write to Joe Morgenstern at joe.morgenstern@wsj.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.