By Leah Greenblatt
February 05, 2021 at 04:45 PM EST
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

From the title alone, Two of Us  — or Deux, as it's called in its native France — seems to swell with romance. And it very much is one, though it would be a lot simpler for Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) if à deux was all they had. Together for decades, the pair are finally ready to move to Rome and live out their golden years together — except Madeleine is also a widow with two grown children, terrified to tell them her truth. So to everyone they know they're merely friendly neighbors instead; two elderly women who share a common hallway.

When fate steps in and abruptly alters their plans, director Filippo Meneghetti's tender domestic drama (out today and just nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes) becomes a moving referendum on choice and chance and the extraordinary lengths people go to protect their most private selves — even if the movie never quite explains why, in approximately 2021, it would be so terrible not to.

The small cosmopolitan city the duo lives in hardly seems like the kind to burn lesbians on a pyre: a place of leafy parks and cafes where Madeleine has raised her family — daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) a harried hairdresser and single mom, and son Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain), who still holds on to some vague but surly idea that she was unfaithful to their late father.

All she needs to do is break the news to them at a birthday dinner, but her failure to work up the courage becomes a full-fledged betrayal when Nina finds out — and an actual disaster when serious illness strikes.  Suddenly Madeleine is out of reach to the person she's spent nearly every day and night with for decades, simply because their love can't (or won't) speak its name.

German actress Sukowa, a decorated veteran of Fassbender films and more mainstream fare like TV's 12 Monkeys, is ferociously great as a woman whose devotion is as fierce as her determination to drag her lover into a more honest life. Though it's disconcerting and sometimes frustrating too to watch her have to spend so much of the movie essentially stalking her own life partner.

Meneghetti, a first-time but remarkably assured filmmaker, gives Two a dreamlike realism, letting the score go ragged in its tensest moments and swooping in artfully on aching closeups and empty spaces. More than any machinations in the script, it's the profound intimacy he creates for his two main characters — and the lovely, indelible way both actresses color inside those lines — that lingers after the last poignant fadeout. Grade: B+

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