By Kyriacos Nicolaou

With the 93rd Academy Awards fast approaching and this year’s Golden Globes providing an indication as to which projects have a chance at an Oscar, one of the most hotly contested and somewhat controversial categories this year will be international films, not least because it includes American-made movie Minari. At the Golden Globes, the Best Foreign Language Film category included The Life Ahead, the aforementioned Minari, La Llorona, Another Round and Two of Us. Two of Us, originally titled Deux in France, is also the country’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards.

Though the premise of Two of Us, available on iTunes and Google Play, is simple, two women in their old age who live next to each other have also been sharing a romantic relationship for a long time, co-writer and director Filippo Meneghetti manages to do quite a lot with it. Indeed, Two of Us is essentially a love story but far from a trite affair. It is the distinct and unique approach of Nina and Madeleine, the two protagonists, to their love and how they believe it to be perceived by the outside world that truly drives the film forward.

The first thing to greet the audience is the sound of crows. A murder of these black birds flies over a tree-lined pedestrian area along a river somewhere in France. Two young girls are playing hide and seek. The one hiding uses the wide trunk of a tree to hide from the seeker. When the girl searching for her figures out that perhaps going around that particular tree will reveal her hidden playmate’s location, she still fails to find her. As if she has vanished into thin air. When she opens her mouth to scream her name in pained puzzlement, nothing but the cawing of a crow comes out. A somewhat vague but unmistakably ominous way to foreshadow the coming events.

Nina and Madeleine plan their next step. Selling off their adjacent apartments in the quaint little town they currently reside in and move to Rome, where they originally met, to get a place by the River Tiber. Madeleine is bold and optimistic with Nina, but we soon learn the way she handles her relationship is much more fearful and private. Her family is unaware of her homosexuality. This aggravates Nina, who has had to put up with this for some time, prompting her to call her pathetic. Madeleine is shortly thereafter blighted by a stroke, which she survives. Nina is heartbroken but still very much infatuated with Madeleine, Madeleine is wheelchair-bound and unable to speak, the daughter hires a woman to take care of Madeleine, and the plot unfurls from this point onward.

Director Filippo Meneghetti previously explained that the story is rooted in personal experience and referenced people who positively impacted his life, two of them being credited with inspiring his love for cinema. However, the chosen age of the two protagonists is something he consciously injected into the screenplay, saying that he wanted to go against the ageist trope of younger people dominating the stories we are often presented with. Barbara Sukowa (Nina) and Martine Chevallier (Madeleine) deliver excellent performances and impart tangible potency to the simplest of gestures, particularly in the third act of the film.

Meneghetti also pulls off a somewhat rare feat in that the Two of Us revolves around a topic that tends to elicit different reactions from different demographics. He has managed to convincingly portray the attraction between his two protagonists without being explicit or cheap in how they are viewed. The Italian director has explained that he wanted to partly achieve this through the use of contrast, how Nina and Madeleine feel and interact with the world around them when they are together and how they do the same when they are apart.