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The Criterion Collection presents
The Two of Us (1968)

"In November 1943, I was eight years old, and already a Jew."
- Claude Langmann (Claude Berri)

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: September 06, 2007

Stars: Michel Simon, Alain Cohen
Other Stars: Charles Denner, Luce Fabiole, Roger Carel
Director: Claude Berri

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:27m:00s
Release Date: June 12, 2007
UPC: 715515024129
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA+A A+

DVD Review

Relatively fresh from his 1965 Best Short Film Oscar for Le poulet (The Chicken, included here as an extra), actor/director Claude Berri created that rarest of beasts: a truly remarkable debut feature film. Not only did he draw instant acclaim from audiences at home and abroad for what was originally titled "The Old Man and the Child," he single-handedly revived the career and profile of Michel Simon, an actor beloved for decades who had fallen out of favor since appearing in French classics like Boudu Saved From Drowning and L'Atlante. 1967's The Two of Us is the deceptively simple and largely autobiographical story of Claude Langmann (the birth name of the director), a Jew living in France during the German occupation. When Claude's spiritedness threatens to draw unwanted attention to the family, he is sent to live in the countryside with the family of a sympathetic friend. Before departing, he is carefully trained to pray in the Catholic manner and to always hide his "birdie" the country family think that they're protecting a city-kid from the dangers of war, but lack all sympathy for the Jews.

Coming on the heels of the French New Wave, but lacking some of the conscious over-artiness of some of its lesser lights, Berri filmed Two of Us in a warm and open manner. It's accessible and fleet in spite of what would threaten to be grim subject matter. "It's filled with pitfalls" says actor Simon in an archival interview included on the disc, referring to the subject of Jewish people in occupied France during the war. Berri shows us a side of World War II rarely seen in the movies. Though there isn't a character in the film whose life isn't impacted for the worse in large or subtle ways by the war, everyone continues to live life as best they can. These are not soldiers, or politicians, or people of great deeds or great tragedies. There are no concentration camps or cackling Nazis. It is for this reason that Francois Truffaut called The Two of Us "the real film" about occupied France. In the face of any upheaval, most of us will adjust where necessary to survive and preserve a bit of normalcy, being neither heroic nor villainous in the process. Simon's character "Grandpa" would be an evil presence in almost any other film, but Berri allows him his humanity, and Michel Simon's lovely, bright performance allows him to be likeable, loveable even.

That bold choice carries the film. The relationship between Claude (Alain Cohen) and Grandpa is at the literal heart of the film, and it's both charming and real. Young Claude, particularly before leaving Paris, is sometimes sullen while being something of a rascal. In the film's first scene, he is caught shoplifting. He smokes. He gets into fights. While we sympathize with his unspoken desire to do normal childhood things in the midst of war, it's a bit easier to relate to the father (Charles Denner), trying to protect his Jewish family from the very real dangers all around. Claude's willfulness robs the family of any sense of security. Grandpa, by contrast, is a delightful character. Full of life, a strict vegetarian, with an ancient dog upon whom he dotes no less so than he does on Claude. He carefully places a bib on Kinou before each feeding, spoon-feeding the old hound who no longer has quite the ability to feed himself. Those scenes tell us all we need to know about the human being, while contrasting sharply with the painful rhetoric of the old man who blames all of France's problems on lefties and Jews. The right-wing radio broadcasts that he soaks up each evening do nothing to disabuse him of his long-formed notions that, while the Germans may be bad, the Jews are worse.

Berri tweaks Grandpa for the ridiculousness of some of his notions, perhaps more gently than he deserves. After hearing Grandpa describe identifying the Jews by their hook noses, curly hair, and big ears, clever Claude runs crying from the room, wailing that Grandpa must be a Jew, possessing all of those features and then some. Berri's main purpose is to delight in the lively interaction between these two characters. While the film is, on one level, a simple story of an old man finding delight in the company of a young one, there are subtleties here that many another filmmaker would lose. If Berri could be said to have a message here, it is that our politics and our humanity don't always intersect in the ways that we might expect.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Criterion had provided yet another superb transfer. The black-and-white film is bright, clear, and free of blemishes. The Two of Us looks absolutely wonderful.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The original French mono track is provided, and it is clear and crisp. The packaging also boasts a "new and improved" English subtitle translation, and, though I only know a little French, the translation is clear and effective.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Le poulet (1962), director Claude Berri's Oscar-winning short film
Extras Review: The first, and meatiest, of the extras included is Le poulet (The Chicken), the short film that launched Claude Berri's directorial career and won him a short-film Oscar. At around 15 minutes, it's a brisk and charming little film about a young man who takes steps to prevent his beloved pet chicken from becoming Sunday dinner, going so far as to engineer a bit of a sex-change for the bird. The same heart and sense of humor that Berri went on to display in the main feature are very much on display here. While it doesn't look as great as the disc's main feature, the image quality is quite good.

The film's original trailer is included, followed by interviews with writer/director Berri, and stars Alain Cohen and Michel Simon. Along with a new 2007 Criterion interview, there are two archival interviews with Berri, one from around the time of the film's release, and another from 1975 which reunites Berri with the woman who helped to secure his family's safety during the occupation. They are all under ten minutes, but together provide a bit more insight into the autobiographical nature of the film. Cohen, who has appeared in two other Berri films discusses his experience as a young man allowed to take off from school in order to appear in the film as well as offering his thoughts on Simon. Finally, Michel Simon expresses his gratitude to Berri in an archival interview from 1967.

Also included is a handsomely produced, 30-page booklet with essays from film critic David Sterritt, Francois Truffaut, and Claude Berri.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Claude Berri's debut feature is remarkable in its deeply human portrayal of life during the Nazi occupation of France. Taking on subject matter "full of pitfalls," Berri's film dances gracefully around the over-obvious choices that many lesser directors would have made. Masterful and charming performances by veteran Michel Simon and then-novice Alain Cohen remind us that we are far more than the sum of our politics. Criterion has put together a hearty, if not quite extensive, collection of extras along with an absolutely beautiful new digital transfer. The Two of Us is a brisk and hopeful movie about life during wartime.

 


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