“Who could I talk to without you? Who could I confide in?”
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, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- French Films
- Mistaken Identities
- World War Two
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”
- Alain Cohen as Claude
- A touching story of cross-generational friendship
- Beautiful b&w cinematography (by Jean Penzer)
Yes, as a classic of foreign cinema, and for Simon’s late-life performance.
- Foreign Gem
- Important Director
- Noteworthy Performance(s)