As various segments of the population age, and the complications that arise from that become part of our collective awareness, filmmakers have been finding ways to bring those stories to the screen.
The LGBT community is no exception when it comes to this subject matter. Some dramatic films, including Ira Sachs’ “Love Is Strange,” did an excellent job of telling one such story. Conversely, Wendy Jo Carlton’s adaptation of Claudia Allen’s play “Hannah Free” was simply inadequate.
In 2021, two more films are being released that also address the issue. The first is Harry Macqueen’s “Supernova,” starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. The other is “Two of Us” (Magnolia), the feature-length debut by writer/director Filippo Meneghetti, in French with English subtitles.
Widow Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa, a favorite of the late queer filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder) have been clandestine lovers for 20 years. Neighbors who have lived across the hall from each other in identical apartments for a considerable length of time, they have kept their relationship a secret from everyone, including Madeleine’s adult daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) and son Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain).
The couple spends most of their time in Madeleine’s more opulent flat, as opposed to Nina’s more spartan unit. They sleep together in Madeleine’s bed and have breakfast together in the morning. When Madeleine is expecting guests or has an appointment in her apartment, Nina simply scoots across the hall back to her domain. While they go out shopping or to pick up their clean laundry together, the pair maintains a kind of public distance. But once they have returned to the privacy of Madeleine’s unit, they are affectionate, dancing to their song “Chariot” (the French version of “I Will Follow Him”).
Mado, as Nina calls her, has decided to sell her apartment so that she and Nina can leave France and relocate to Rome, a city that is special to them. She meets with a realtor who tells her that her home could easily fetch 250,000 in the current market. This news pleases both women and, just as they begin to believe that their plan for the future could be a reality, Mado begins to have second thoughts. Perhaps it’s because she will be leaving her young grandson Théo (Augustin Reynes), the son of Anne, behind. Or maybe because it means she will finally have to come out to Anne and Frédéric.
Whatever the case may be, Nina is under the impression that all is going as planned. When she discovers that it isn’t, she has harsh words with Mado and storms off. Possibly the result of the confrontation, or even the stress of living with her secret for as long as she has, or just genetics, Mado has a stroke and Nina finds her and calls an ambulance.
Nina is overcome with emotion. The guilt she feels, whether just or not, gives her nightmares. That is, on the rare occasion when she’s able to sleep. With Mado’s kids in charge, Nina is pushed aside. When Mado, who has lost the ability to speak, is brought home in a wheelchair to continue her recovery, Muriel (Muriel Bénazéraf), an around-the-clock nurse is hired, further removing Nina from Mado’s presence.
What follows is Nina’s attempts, some successful, others less so, to insinuate herself back into Mado’s life. She strikes a “deal” with Muriel. She uses her key to enter Mado’s apartment at her leisure. Eventually, Nina makes progress with Mado. When she’s around, Mado is more responsive and shows signs of improvement. However, when Anne discovers the relationship, she banishes Nina, and moves Mado into a convalescent home.
Love triumphs in the end. It’s the emotional rollercoaster of watching “Two Of Us” that gives seeing it in action such as weight and impact. Kudos to Meneghetti for getting such authentic performances from his lead actresses. We never doubt for a moment that Nina and Mado are the two most important people in each other’s lives.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.