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CANNES 2023 Cannes Première

Review: Just the Two of Us


- CANNES 2023: Valérie Donzelli arguably delivers her best film yet, charting with formidable, novelistic acuity the trajectory of a woman falling under the control of a man

Review: Just the Two of Us
Melvil Poupaud and Virginie Efira in Just the Two of Us

"I loved the very tears I caused to flow". No French teacher could remain unmoved by this line from Racine’s Britannicus, but the heroine in Just the Two of Us [+see also:
interview: Valérie Donzelli
film profile
, Valérie Donzelli’s new film unveiled in the Cannes Film Festival’s Cannes Première programme, is far from imagining, at the beginning of the story, that there’s often a fine line between literature and real life, and that one person’s tears are sometimes the cruel delight of another. In her adaptation (in league with Audrey Diwan) of Éric Reinhardt’s novel of the same name, the French filmmaker gets to the heart of an issue which is a sad but frequent state of affairs: the gradual control exerted over a woman, dreaming only of love, by a manipulative and twisted spouse who spins a real spiderweb over the long-term, which it’s extremely difficult to escape from and which often even ends in femicide.

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"I’m the perfect guy for you". When Blanche (Virginie Efira) - a somewhat despondent sister who’s been dragged along to a party by her twin - meets Greg (Melvil Poupaud), it feels like the beginning of a perfect romance. Fulfilling sex, a spin in a convertible, a romantic stroll in Paris: Blanche is totally bowled over by this "pretty boy", as her mum described him: "he was utterly adorable, I was crazy about him". Soon, the couple leave Normandy for Lorraine where Greg has been transferred for work. Their first child is born in a flash, but Blanche carries on working as a teacher, having to travel by bus from the village where their little family lives. Alarm bells start to ring, however, when Blanche randomly discovers Greg lied about the reasons for his transfer. He apologies unreservedly ("I wanted us to reinvent ourselves in a new place, without a past. I’m sorry I lied, I was afraid to tell you the truth, afraid of losing you. I really regret what I did, you’re not going to believe anything I say now. I want you all to myself"). Blanche lets it go (in fact, a second child is soon to be conceived), but her decision turns out to be a mistake for the trap is already set…

Exploring how this puzzle of domination and control takes shape, piece by piece, starting with the corners and the edges, with expert use made of ellipses (based on a brilliant screenplay), Valérie Donzelli paints a poignant picture of Blanche’s increasingly unbearable torment, made worse by her feelings of guilt and her realisation of the gravity of the situation. The film depicts a startling, seven-year ordeal, both novelistic and realistic, told via flashbacks to a lawyer, and Blanche’s desperate and incredibly dangerous quest to regain her freedom, all enveloped in a relatively timeless (the film could just as easily be set in the ‘70s as now), slightly photo-novelistic and darker-toned visual coating (courtesy of Laurent Tangy). But it’s first and foremost a feminist work of truth, offering up challenging but wonderful roles which Virginie Efira and Melvil Poupaud portray with great talent.

Just the Two of Us is produced by Rectangle Productions in co-production with Les Films de Françoise and France 2 Cinéma, and is sold worldwide by Goodfellas.

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(Translated from French)

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