Two of Us, The (1967)

“Who could I talk to without you? Who could I confide in?”

Two of Us Poster

Synopsis:
During World War II, a young Jewish boy (Alain Cohen) is sent by his concerned parents (Charles Denner and Zorica Lozic) to live undercover as a Catholic in the countryside with a kind but anti-semitic old man (Michel Simon) and his wife (Luce Fabiole).

Genres:

Review:
Claude Berri’s feature debut — based on his own experiences as a boy in the French countryside during World War II — offers an unabashedly sentimental perspective on the danger of Jews in hiding. Rather than hinging his narrative on if or when naughty Claude (Cohen) will slip up and give away his religious identity, Berri focuses instead on the “May-December” friendship which develops between Simon and Cohen; indeed, the original title of the film (inexplicably changed for American audiences) is “Le Vieil Homme et l’Enfant”, or The Old Man and the Boy. Eventually, however, The Two of Us turns into a gentle fable about the absurdity of prejudice as well.

Simon, with his craggy, life-worn face, is surprisingly appealing as the bigoted “Grampa”, whose ill-founded preconceptions about “others” (Jews, Blacks, gypsies) belies his soft-hearted nature; much is made, for instance, of the fact that he’s a vegetarian who strongly opposes his wife killing rabbits for dinner, and tries to convince Claude from abstaining as well. Most of the film’s rather unexpected humor comes as we listen to Simon explaining how Jews can be spotted (or smelled!), and why they’re so “undesirable” — and then hear Claude innocently questioning his inane assertions, pointing out, for instance, the enormity of Simon’s own nose. Meanwhile, Claude — once so coddled that his mother literally spoon-fed him his dinner — gradually becomes more independent, literally blossoming in the fresh country air. If only all young European Jews during the war were as lucky as Berri…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Michel Simon as “Grampa”
    Two of Us Simon
  • Alain Cohen as Claude
    Two of Us Cohen
  • A touching story of cross-generational friendship
    Two of Us Friendship
  • Beautiful b&w cinematography (by Jean Penzer)
    Two of Us Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of foreign cinema, and for Simon’s late-life performance.

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One Response to “Two of Us, The (1967)”

  1. First viewing. A must. Oddly enough, for some reason the number of must-see films about children seems small to me. This one fits into that group oh-so-comfortably.

    In terms of nuance, I actually think the American title is a nice change from the original French. The French title states that the two are separate beings; the American one seems to imply a ‘you and me against the world’ closeness – that there is essentially little difference between them. Or, at any rate, that they have an undeniable bond.

    It is indeed odd to see the boy being spoon-fed by both mother and father. One wonders what’s behind the parents’ unwillingness to stop babying their child. Is that one of the results of their fear of being discovered?

    The quote used in this assessment is from one of the film’s most charming sequences (of which there are many). Simon’s intimate fondness toward Cohen is all the more touching as we come to view Cohen as Simon’s grandchild substitute.

    What many might not expect from what is largely a sentimental film are the particular conversations between ‘the two of us’ that are laugh-out-loud funny.

    The film is episodic, essentially plotless, completely character-driven. Clocking in at about 90 minutes, it’s also economic. We have just enough time to see what we need to see and feel what we need to feel. The screenplay also (thankfully) works against expectation in its conclusion and is very satisfying.

    ‘TTOU’ is more than likely a film ffs will want to return to once in a while.

    [The Criterion DVD contains Berri’s Oscar-winning short, ‘Le Poulet’ (The Chicken), made the year before ‘TTOU’. Simply delightful.]

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