A ten­der, defi­ant love

Philadel­phia Film Fes­ti­val 2020: Fil­ip­po Meneghetti’s Deux’

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A portrait of devotion: Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa in 'Deux.' (Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)
A portrait of devotion: Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa in 'Deux.' (Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

Filippo Meneghetti’s Deux (titled Two of Us in English), screened at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, is a beautiful and often heart-wrenching exploration of devotion that departs from most movies by centering an older couple in a queer love story.

Queer elders

Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) is a closeted queer woman in her seventies torn between duty and desire. A widow who outlived her abusive husband, she longs to live as her true self with her longtime secret partner, Nina (Barbara Sukowa), who poses as her unaffected across-the-hall neighbor. However, she is unable to bring herself to tell her family that she intends to sell her apartment and move to Rome, where she and Nina will finally be able to live together as a couple. After a furious confrontation, a medical crisis interferes with the couple’s plans.

Very rarely is anyone under, say, 35 the focus of queer movies, a significant subgenre of which tend to follow characters in searching for and discovering new love, navigating the trials and tribulations of coming out, and exploring their identities and, inevitably, sex. Two of Us is, therefore, refreshing in many ways, as it focuses on a long-established, older queer couple who, although they clearly have a sexual relationship, are not meant to titillate audiences. Instead the narrative centers their commitment to each other and the delicate foundation on which their relationship is necessarily built.

Struggle, agency, and opportunity

The premise of a couple posing as acquaintances is inherently queer (falling squarely in the “just gals being pals” trope), but the story defies the normal boundaries of both the queer and romance genres. Nina struggles with family members and a healthcare system that do not adequately address a patient’s needs, while also fighting to be with the person she loves most in the world. She imperfectly balances Mado’s boundaries, her own frustration and desire for closeness, and being able to provide the emotional and physical support her beloved desperately needs.

While Mado battles her way back from a debilitating incident, she attempts to communicate with those around her, but is often ignored, underestimated, and further silenced—except, of course, by Nina. It becomes impossible to hide the nature of their relationship, and the family’s response further imperils them. But Mado grasps a courageous new agency through Nina, leading to a sudden opportunity that needs no words.

A new classic

I have often bemoaned the lack of happy queer stories, as our tales are invariably tinged with tragedy, and seeing my queer siblings die or have their hearts broken onscreen is, frankly, exhausting. This time, however, it’s different. Nina and Mado’s love story is a powerful and vitally important addition to the queer film canon. I wouldn’t categorize Two of Us as a cheerful movie, but it’s no tragedy, either. There is so much love, and it is as gentle and tender as it is fierce and defiant; a type of enduring, unwavering, steadfast devotion that is beautiful and humbling to behold.

Image description: A still from the film Two of Us. It’s a close-up on two white women in their 70s, both facing left in a dark room. Madeleine, played by Martine Chevallier, is in front. She has short gray and white hair. Nina, played by Barbara Sukowa, is behind her and puts her left hand on Madeleine’s shoulder. They’re both smiling

What, When, Where

Deux. Written by Filippo Meneghetti, Malysone Bovorasmy, and Florence Vignon. Directed by Filippo Meneghetti. Streamed as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival.

Deux is in French with English subtitles.

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