The Two of Us (1936) (NR)

Drama 76 January 1, 2036
By Alan Scherstuhl
One of the great films about childhood and life during wartime, Claude Berri's piquant, piercing debut, The Two of Us (1967), also stands -- despite its highly personal and historic milieu -- as a study of perennial generational conflict. "He listens to the radio too much, but he's a good man," a grown-up warns 8-year-old Claude (Alain Cohen) of the cheery old crank the boy is being sent off to live with. It's 1945, the Nazis have occupied France, and Claude and his family must hide their Jewishness. In Claude's case, he must do so even from the parents-of-friends' farmers putting him up.

But soon he's out of Paris and away from the worst of the air raids, surrounded by fields and wildflowers, by rambunctious country kids and most thrillingly by that stout crank, Grampa (Michel Simon), who turns out to be the warmest, smilingest homme Claude could hope for. We first see Grampa, in beret and suspenders, sitting at the dinner table, spooning dinner into the mouth of his dog, who has its own chair and bib. When Grampa finally does say shocking nonsense -- about the stink of Jews -- Claude is fascinated. Like a kid thumbing a scab, Claude can't resist prodding at his friend's prejudice. But he also can't help but love the man, who gets revealed over the course of the film as an avowed Nazi sympathizer.

Berri's film is an act of memory rather than an exercise in genre storytelling. The director based the story on his own childhood, and speaks occasional lines of narration himself. He holds close to young Claude's perceptions, attentive to pastoral pleasures, shot in exquisite but clear-eyed black and white by Jean Penzer.
Jack Hulbert, Robert Stevenson Jack Hulbert, Gina Malo, Robertson Hare, Mary Jerrold, Cecil Parker Austin Melford, Jack Hulbert

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