Two of Us (M, 109 minutes)
Two of Us (French title: Deux) seems to pass through a range of moods and genres before reaching its conclusion. It's by turns a love story, family drama and thriller, with elements of black comedy, and it's refreshingly difficult to predict which way it's heading. It's been a while coming to Australia but has proved worth the wait.
The film begins an unsettling, if slightly obscure, prologue, one of a few such inserts. Then we meet the main characters.
Nina (played by Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) live in apartments across the hall from each other. But the two mature women spend a lot of time together: one is widowed, one divorced, but they have been clandestine and happy lovers for many years.
They have been talking about selling their apartments and moving to Rome, where they met. But when Madeleine is supposed to tell her adult children, Anne (Lea Drucker) and Frédéric (Jérme Varanfrain) about the plan she gets cold feet. After Nina discovers this, she is furious.
Then something happens that is devastating, in different ways, to both women. Without spoiling things, they have a lot more difficulty seeing each other and both their lives are changed drastically.
The two ladies sitting near me at Dendy who had chatted all the way through the ads and preview stopped talking, appropriately, once the film began and, like me, seemed to enjoy it in rapt silence.
Italian director Filippo Meneghetti, who wrote the film with Malysone Bovorasmy, makes his feature film debut and does a very creditable job with the actors and the changing moods of the film.
Apart from those distracting inserts, the film's story also begins rather suddenly: we don't spend much time with Nina and Madeleine before the life-changing event occurs.
But these are not major flaws. the performers sell their characters' relationship and bring their characters vividly to life.
Sukowa memorably conveys Nina's desperation and guilt and obsession, making her character's behaviour understandable, and Chevallier's less showy but just as accomplished work is also impressive.
You can also see things from Anne and the more abrasive Frédéric's perspective: they don't know the nature of their mother's relationship with Nina and the latter woman seems peculiar as her behaviour escalates from what seem to be neighbourly expressions of concern and offers of help to more intrusive and disturbing actions.
Another character worth noting is the glum Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf), whose place in Madeleine's life is increasingly usurped by Nina.
A recurring motif is an Italian song to the tune of I Will Follow Him, providing some upbeat energy for when the going gets tough. The ending is ambiguous but the song provides hope.