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Two of Us review – heart-wrenching drama of love and loss

Filippo Meneghetti’s beautifully acted and stylish tale of lesbian romance is a refreshing look at older women’s desire

The corridor between Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine’s (Martine Chevallier) apartments is the most important place in writer-director Filippo Meneghetti’s engrossing drama Two of Us. Just a matter of meters in length, the short distance acts as both a pathway and a barrier between these lovers of twenty years.

Their tranquil routine of living between apartments is scuppered after a sudden calamity leads Madeleine’s daughter (Léa Drucker), unknowing of their romance, to restrict the pair from meeting. The gap between their front doors now feels like miles for Nina to cross in this tale of older lesbians that is both heartbreakingly earnest and stylistically original.

Following in the footsteps of two pining French lesbians in the recent Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Two of Us strikes a similar visual language of queer desire. Communicating non-verbally, as Madeleine is left unable to speak, wary touches and physical closeness form the basis of their whispered “I love yous” when Madeline’s family aren’t looking.

Aurélien Marra’s mellow cinematography creates a cosy sanctuary out of Madeleine’s home where soft dappled golden light shines against grey hair like a halo. Now, with a forced physical distance implemented between the couple, entering her lover’s house is like stepping from cold into the warmth for Nina. Overcome with a chest-tightening breathlessness, she is overwhelmed by the emotion she must bury for the sake of Madeleine who is not yet out to her family.

Madeline, a mother and grandmother, bears the weight of being closeted later in life and it is refreshing to see a coming out plot, so often tied to younger, coming-of-age characters, in the context of older women. Meneghetti effortlessly navigates this touching story with a precious representation of sapphic desire that is rare to see on-screen.

Treated with all the tenderness such a narrative deserves, Madeleine’s apprehension is countered by Nina’s devotion, just as Chevallier’s subtle performance is a perfect compliment to Sukowa’s ardent delivery. Both magnifying turns come together in a heartrendingly raw portrayal of a couple and their silent but unbreakable vow of care.

Although branded a drama, Two of Us leans towards and is occasionally shot like a thriller. Nina slides through unlocked doors and tiptoes in the darkness to Madeline’s room in sequences that are composed like scenes from a heist film. Elsewhere, Meneghetti’s intrigued camera peers through the peephole of Nina’s flat and into the no man’s land of the corridor, the unexpectedly intense atmosphere serving as Two Of Us’ secret weapon against any sort of dawdling pace.

The stylistically original portrayal not only aids the film’s exciting visual texture but beautifully spotlights the dedication of this quietly assured romance. Delicate but daring, adding dimension to its older lesbian characters and allowing their desire to blossom, Two of Us is a stirring portrait of love that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Two of Us in showing in cinemas from 16 July.

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