The addition of "The Two of Us" to the Criterion Collection disappoints only in having taken too long to come to fruition. Besides the justly celebrated film, we are given a booklet containing an appreciative review by critic emeritus David Sterritt and autobiographical excerpts by Francois Truffaut and the film's director, Claude Berri, together with the usual acknowledgments, scene titles, and cast listing. Extras on the DVD include Berri's Oscar-winning short, "Le Poulet," historical clips of veteran actor Michel Simon--the old man--and contemporary interviews with Berri and with Alain Cohen who played the child and who is instantly recognizable forty years later. It is a splendid store, and students who are assigned--as they will be-- criticisms to write will find everything they need and more for plagiarizing.
All this and the movie, too! Simon, Cohen and Berri have been amply praised by critics with stronger credentials than my own, so I will allow the interviews and the film to speak for me. What higher praise for the acting than this from Berri: "If you have to direct, you've chosen the wrong actor." How better to summarize the film in one line than by the child's question before he meets the old man: "Why doesn't he like Jews if he is nice?" The old man is all that a surrogate grandfather should be: empathetic, loving, comforting, and playful. "I'll teach you myself," he says when the boy is cruelly treated at school, and teach him he does, from an abundant store of misinformation and prejudice, which the boy pumps from him with the impudent certainty that it is all nonsense.
When the village children and their teacher are cruel, it is casual cruelty to a stranger from Paris, not to one of the hated Jews. The war is there, too, with propaganda from the radio, rationing, and overhead bombers, and we are aware, as the child is not, of the devastating consequences should he forget his Catholic prayer, his false name, or the need to dress and bathe in private. Berri, in his interview, says that amidst much suffering, it was possible to be happy during the war, as he was and as is the child in the movie. It is no less an indictment of racism that these two escape its tragic consequences.
I don't speak French, but the subtitles are more than adequate. The dialogue isn't irrelevant, but most of the time the situation is more than clear with no dialogue at all.