Directed by Claude Berri
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 87 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono French
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Review Date: May 30, 2007
Adorable youngsters melting the icy hearts of crusty elders has been a staple movie plot since the silent era. From The Kid through all the incarnations of Heidi and The Secret Garden and many more, this scenario has always been a sure audience pleaser. Claude Berri’s The Two of Us takes the basic plotline and does wonderful things with it. It’s among the very best of its kind.
Michel Simon had a career resurrection with this film playing Grampa who takes in nine year old Claude (Alain Cohen) when his parents living in Paris during the last year of World War II feared for his safety during nightly bombing raids and the constant presence of the German forces during the Occupation. Claude is a precocious child, spoiled (he’s still fed his food by his mother, does as he pleases despite pleas from his father to be careful), and oblivious to the danger around him. His being sent to the country is as much a saving grace for his parents as it is for him. With him gone, they are much less likely to have attention drawn to themselves through this very noisy, very active child on the premises.
The basic plot gains added depth on several fronts. Being set during the last year of the German occupation of France, there’s an undeniable tension underneath the often lighthearted hijinks in the film. With the child's being Jewish and those who are keeping him unaware of the fact and themselves also filled with prejudice against Jews, another layer of tension has been added. (But some fun has been added, too, as the child cleverly gets the old man to spout his bigoted ignorance often for his amusement.) So the film presents a gentle picture of prejudice and its innate folly all within the framework of this lovely character study of two endearing rascals.
The camaraderie between actors Simon and Cohen is not only engaging but also quite remarkable; one actually feels the growing affection developing between these two people. By the time Claude’s head gets cruelly shaved, his very real distress and his Grampa’s boundless tenderness is palpable. An idyllic picnic with wonderful food, group singing, and target practice with slingshots makes for a splendidly directed and scored (delightful music by Georges Delarue) highlight in a film filled with them.
The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented faithfully in this excellent black and white anamorphic transfer. Though sharpness might have been increased a bit and blacks aren’t always what they could have been, the grayscale for the film is still outstanding. Moreover, there’s not a blemish to be seen, no dirt, specks, or scratches at all making for a very film like presentation. Edge enhancement is not a problem. The off-white subtitles are easily read. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack does contain some slight hiss, and there are occasional moments of distortion as well, but neither spoils the aural experience. It’s a typical mono soundtrack of its period.
Interviews with the two stars and the director make up the majority of the special features on the disc. The most substantial is an 11-minute 2005 interview with Alain Cohen describing how he was cast as a child for the film and his real life relationship with the director and with star Michel Simon. This interview is presented with subtitles and in anamorphic video.
A very brief two minute clip with star Michel Simon in 1967 after the great success of the film at Cannes and at the Berlin Film Festival is shown in a scratchy 4:3 film excerpt.
More informative are three interviews with director Claude Berri. A 2007 interview with the director covers in 9 minutes some brief but worthwhile information on casting the film and his career as an actor and writer prior to directing this movie. A television interview in color done in 1967 and a later interview in 1975 with the woman who had been instrumental in hiding Berri himself during the war also make too brief appearances.
Claude Berri’s Oscar-winning short film Le Poulet, a 15-minute charmer about a young boy’s love for a rooster slated to be Sunday dinner, is presented in an overly dark non-anamorphic letterbox transfer. It’s a welcome addition to the DVD set and a clear indicator that Berri had a definite knack of dealing with children and animals on screen in an amiable fashion.
The film’s three minute theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen is also included.
As usual, the Criterion set also comes with an enclosed booklet: thirty pages of stills from the film, film critic David Sterritt’s loving appreciation of the movie, director Francois Truffaut’s thoughts on the picture, and quite fascinating excerpts from director Claude Berri’s autobiography dealing with the making of Le Poulet and The Two of Us.
The story of The Two of Us was based in large part on the actual experiences of director Claude Berri as a child during the final years of World War II. That he has made such a sensitive and heartwarming film while at the same time gently condemning the idiocy of prejudice gives The Two of Us an importance and a uniqueness that really shouldn’t be missed.