May 28, 2018

The Peculiar Friendship of THE TWO OF US (1967)

Starring Michel Simon, Alain Cohen, Charles Denner, Luce Fabiole, Roger Carel, Paul Preboist. Directed by Claude Bern. (1967/87 min).

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Fluffy the Fearless­čś║

Claude and Pepe have a strange relationship, to say the least.

Claude (Aain Cohen) is an 8-year-old Jewish boy living with his parents in Nazi occupied Paris. Like most kids, he's mischievous and wants to fit-in. But his father, terrified of calling attention to themselves, regularly scolds him for misbehaving. As the threat of being shipped to Auschwitz looms larger, they send Claude to live with an elderly couple in the country.

Since the couple are devout Catholics and Pepe (Michel Simon) is a staunch anti-semite, Claude must keep his heritage a secret. Pepe himself is a piece of work...a stubborn, closed-minded nationalist who's blindly loyal to France's puppet leader and spends his evenings listening to government propaganda on the radio. He also shares his contempt for Jews with Claude, who listens intently and asks many questions, never revealing what he really is.

But ironically, it's Pepe with whom Claude develops the closest bond. Claude grows to love the old man, despite his racist, wrong-headed rhetoric. Pepe shows more affection and respect for the boy than his own father ever did, treating him as an equal and teaching him - sometimes irresponsibly - the ways of the world and, best of all, the inherent joys of childhood.

"Then the doctor says, "If this is my thermometer, where the hell is my pen?'"
Though set against the backdrop of the darkest period in European history, The Two of Us tells the sweet, heart-warming story of this relationship. We genuinely like Pepe, accepting him more as an ill-informed buffoon than a hateful bigot, and Simon plays him perfectly. But the real revelation is little Cohen. Nearly the entire story is presented through this child's eyes, and we learn through brief opening and closing narration that this is how he remembers the war. Carrying a whole narrative is a considerable burden for any actor, but Cohen (who was 9 at the time) delivers one of the most remarkably complex performances I've ever seen from a child actor.

Though mostly charming and upbeat - even quite funny, at times - an underlying sadness is omnipresent beneath the film's sunny exterior, occasionally surfacing to remind us of the harsh realities surrounding these characters. Hence, The Two of Us is ultimately a bittersweet viewing experience, but a memorable one well-worth seeing. Even 50 years later, its themes remain relevant and timely.

EXTRA KIBBLES
MICHEL SIMON DISCUSSES THE TWO OF US
MICHEL SIMON AND JEAN RENOIR IN CONVERSATION
TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

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