Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) are elderly lesbians who have enjoyed a long long-term relationship, keeping it secret from Madeleine’s family by pretending to be just friends who happen to live across the hall from each other.

Nina is desperate to have Madeleine (“Mado”) come out to her family and sell her apartment so they can move from southern France to Rome and indulge their love for one another without slinking about. German-born, Nina is unattached, but Mado, a widow, has a daughter; a son with whom she has a difficult relationship; and a grandson, who adores her.

Nina becomes outraged when she discovers that Mado has not put her apartment up for sale as she had promised. Then Mado has a stroke that leaves her disabled and unable to communicate. Now Nina feels not just desperate, but guilty as well.

Two of Us (Deux) is the impressive debut feature film of director Filippo Meneghetti. But it’s the performances of Sukowa and Chevallier that elevate the film a couple cuts above other films about lesbian or gay lovers, or heterosexual lovers for that matter. Sukowa won a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival—in 1981—and the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival—in 1986.

There is one problem with Two of Us. Because Mado spends much of the story in a near-vegetable state, unable to speak, the action centers on Nina. And, truth be told, she’s an unpleasant character. As she tries lovingly and relentlessly to connect with Mado and bring her back to normal consciousness, she makes a series of bad decisions, and she is mean and insensitive to people who deserve better. We viewers are supposed to excuse Nina’s behavior because she is so in love with Mado. In fact, these two women do love each other and cannot live without each other, which leads to an ambiguous but charming ending.