German director Werner Schroeter has been making his idiosyncratic films since the late ’60s and has a following in Europe for his at times avant-garde approach to cinema. Obsessed with opera and operatic themes, he has often focused on the problems of female characters. His new film will doubtless please his loyal followers, but the uninitiated will be baffled by the lack of a coherent narrative and the apparent disdain with which the viewer is treated. This means that, outside a few Euro countries, screenings will be limited to festivals that like to program this kind of outre fare.
Produced by Paolo Branco, who specializes in this kind of strictly arthouse material, “Two” has no discernible narrative, but seems to be about twin sisters, played by Isabelle Huppert, who were separated at birth. With the action, such as it is, shifting back and forth between the Portuguese coast and Marseilles, the film’s main qualities are the pristine cinematography, by Elfi Mikesh, and the extracts from celebrated operatic arias that adorn the soundtrack.
However, on one viewing, it’s quite impossible to work out exactly what’s going on, since the film consists of a series of seemingly random sequences. One of the twins indulges in some mild lesbian action, another befriends a strange man (Jean-Francois Stevenin) who seems to live on the stage of an opera house, while there are various encounters throughout the film which fail to amount to anything much, including a debate over the performance Diana Dors gave in the British pic “Yield to the Night” (known as “Blonde Sinner” in the U.S.).
Given Schroeter’s cavalier approach to narrative, the actors are given little chance to create flesh and blood characters, but remain pawns used by Schroeter to play his increasingly tired cinematic games. Isabelle Huppert is rather unattractively photographed, and the only other thesp to register in any meaningful way is Bulle Ogier, who seems to be playing her mother.
A more structured narrative would have resulted in a more accessible film, but, then, it wouldn’t have been a Schroeter film. For the viewer who is not attuned to the director’s vision, “Two” will be a frustrating time-waster.