Martine Chevallier, left, and Barbara Sukowa star in “Two of Us.” (Courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

Martine Chevallier, left, and Barbara Sukowa star in “Two of Us.” (Courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

‘Two of Us’ a tender tale about older women in love

‘A Ghost Waits’ charms with romance, horror

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From France, a country from which Hollywood could learn plenty about appreciating the character and beauty of older actresses, comes “Two of Us,” the feature debut of writer-director Filippo Meneghetti. Telling the story of a longtime lesbian relationship challenged by illness and power games, the movie (opening Friday in virtual theaters including Cinema SF and on demand) is an expertly made, emotionally resonant romantic drama containing occasional social themes and laced with thrills.

Co-written by Malysone Bovorasmy and set in an unidentified French city, the film opens with a scene of two girls playing hide and seek. We then meet Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa), retirees who have long engaged in their own form of hiding.

Reserved 70-something Madeleine, a widow and grandmother, and slightly younger Nina, who is freer-spirited and German, have been in love for decades. They regularly spend time together in each other’s apartments, which are conveniently located on opposite sides of a hallway, and sometimes dance barefoot to an Italian recording of a 1960s pop tune. But to the world, they present themselves as simply neighbors and friends.

The pair is preparing to relocate to Rome, to spend their final years there, but first, Madeleine must sell her apartment and tell her two grown children — protective Anne (Lea Drucker) and resentful Frederic (Jerome Francaise) — who know nothing about their mother’s relationship with Nina, about her plans. When Madeleine can’t bring herself to do this, Nina explodes in anger. Madeleine then has a stroke that leaves her unable to speak.

Madeleine’s condition prompts a power struggle in which Nina, Anne, and Madeleine’s caregiver, Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf), tangle over the matter of who should oversee Madeleine’s welfare. Because the others are unaware of the true nature of Nina’s relationship with Madeleine, Nina is treated as merely a neighbor and shut out of discussions about Madeleine’s care. Furious, Nina behaves desperately, committing acts of violence and making a financial deal that grants her access to Madeleine.

Her possessive conduct, along with actions taken by the other characters — including Madeleine herself, who may or may not understand the maneuverings occurring around her — gives rise to suspense and intrigue.

The movie sometimes borders on overblown melodrama as the characters machinate, but fortunately, Meneghetti doesn’t lose touch with what’s at its heart: Madeleine and Nina’s bond. He’s created a simple but tense, textured and romantic tale of an enduring love, featuring imperfect but well-meaning characters instead of saints and villains.

The film is also notable for presenting older women as three-dimensional people and as sexual beings and for depicting older lesbians in this light.

Sukowa’s determined Nina is a force acting out of love and devotion. Her actions may sometimes appall, but Sukowa and Meneghetti crucially keep her sympathetic.

Chevallier, whose Madeleine is silent through much of the story, conveys some of Madeleine’s thoughts with her eyes, in the luminous close-ups Meneghetti and cinematographer Aurelien Marra grant her.

The results are stirring.

REVIEW

Two of Us

★★★

Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Lea Drucker, Muriel Benazeraf

Directed by: Filippo Meneghetti

Written by: Filippo Meneghetti, Malysone Bovorasmy

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Natalie Walker and MacLeod Andrews appear in “A Ghost Waits.” (Courtesy Arrow)

Natalie Walker and MacLeod Andrews appear in “A Ghost Waits.” (Courtesy Arrow)

While too light and slight to be able to deliver its darker material with the impact it calls for, the supernatural romance “A Ghost Waits” presents its tale of love and loneliness with refreshing heart and sweetness instead of the expected scares and gore.

Directed by first-timer Adam Stovall, who co-wrote the screenplay with lead actor MacLeod Andrews, and presented in low-contrast black and white to convey its protagonist’s malaise, this indie contains elements of “Beetlejuice” and “A Ghost Story” while also offering a fresh, low-fi take on familiar horror material.

Jack (played by MacLeod), a handyman so lonely that he talks to the toilet he is unclogging, gets more than he expected when he arrives at a vacated house to fix it up for future residents and determine why past tenants have hastily deserted it.

The reason: It’s haunted. The perpetrating “spectral agent” (the new term for ghost), ghoulish-looking Muriel (Natalie Walker), has been scaring people away from the house, which she considers her home.

Jack, however, isn’t frightened by Muriel’s usual haunting tricks, like doorbells that ring, or lights that turn on themselves. He’s drawn to Muriel, with whom he feels meaningfully connected. Muriel’s cold heart, meanwhile, warms in his presence.

The dark and disturbing climax isn’t compatible with the lighter material preceding it. Stovall doesn’t quite pull off the blending of fantasy entertainment and the sad reality of depression.

A subplot involving Muriel’s employment with a haunting agency goes nowhere unique enough to justify taking screen time away from the deepening Jack-Muriel bond.

But that relationship, winningly performed by MacLeod and Walker, still progresses sweetly and enticingly and gives rise to a movie that, overall, charms.

“A Ghost Waits” can be viewed on the Arrow platform.

REVIEW

A Ghost Waits

★★★

Starring: MacLeod Andrews, Natalie Walker

Directed by: Adam Stovall

Written by: Adam Stovall, MacLeod Andrews

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

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