As the women prepare to reveal the truth to Madeleine’s now-adult children and move to Rome together, tragedy strikes: Madeleine suffers a stroke. With the unsuspecting family and a nosy live-in nurse suddenly omnipresent, Nina struggles to care for her partner and express her own fear and anxiety.
Much like Amour, TWO OF US relies on the dynamic between its central couple feeling authentic, a challenge which Sukowa and Chevallier are more than up for. There’s a rhythm and vivacity to their early back-and-forth that perfectly captures a sense of familiarity and comfort; I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d embodied the cliche and finished each other’s sentences. Likewise, Meneghetti dedicates several scenes to the women simply dancing around their living rooms, beaming contentedly with no other characters in sight. Such overt affection often risks becoming saccharine, but the performances ensure it’s not the case here.
Sukowa and Chevallier manage to be equally captivating despite the vastly different challenges of their roles. The former is electrifying, with the difficulty of even being in the same room as her partner accelerating Nina’s journey through the stages of grief. For instance, her offers to help take care of her ‘friend’ are tinged with just enough desperation and insistence to make Madeleine’s nurse question her motives. Sukowa’s delivery is pitch-perfect and the quick, subtle changes to her expression after being turned down are heartbreaking.
Although Nina is the more outgoing and extroverted of the pair, Chevallier maintains a quiet dignity and wisdom as Madeleine that I found fascinating. Most impressively, once she begins recovering the performance never fades into the background to become merely something for others to discuss. Rather, Chevallier is alert, attentive (albeit unable to respond), and at times surprising; it’s an incredibly empathetic turn on par with Emmanuelle Riva’s much-loved work in Amour.
However, Chevallier is also brilliant before the stroke occurs as Madeleine attempts to tell her children the truth. The script subverts expectations by grounding her reluctance in a fear of disrupting her family’s status quo, instead of homophobia. This subtle distinction gives Chevallier powerful material to work with during her early scenes, indeed, we see the doubt slowly creep over her, and later her regret for not speaking up.
Beyond the two leads, the most striking thing about TWO OF US is just how gorgeous it looks. While memorable cinematography may not be a prerequisite to the success of films like this, DP Aurélien Marra encapsulates both the warmth of Nina and Madeleine’s romance, and the isolation brought about by their secrecy. My favourite example of this is an early scene of the women preparing for bed: the soft lights certainly convey the intimacy of the moment, yet the even greater darkness of the room is a reminder that they’re only able to drop their facade in private. Meneghetti undoubtedly deserves credit for this as well; shooting group scenes using a wide-angled, almost fly on the wall approach is an effective choice.
TWO OF US delivers on its emotional premise with a thoughtful, passionate depiction of lifelong relationships. This is a remarkably polished debut from Meneghetti bolstered by leads who flawlessly understand and epitomise its themes. Anyone looking for a good old-fashioned tearjerker need look no further.