Why You Should Watch Two for the Road Starring Audrey Hepburn - VRGyani News and Media

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Friday, August 13, 2021

Why You Should Watch Two for the Road Starring Audrey Hepburn

In film, stories about romance and relationships tend to fall into two categories. There are the films about courtships and the films about breakups. Each presents their own built-in dramatic thrust, both focused on the couple’s most important decisions of when to begin and when to end. Rarer are the films about a relationship over the course of a long period of time, and there is a good reason for that. Figuring out an effective way to dramatize a full fledged relationship over the course of two hours proves rather difficult. The balance between learning why these two people initially found each other and fell in love, the ups and downs of their time together, and whether or not they decide to continue the relationship could either feel heavily weighted to a particular area the filmmaker feels most assured to explore or so out of whack that everything feels rushed, causing little to no investment from the audience. Scenes from a Marriage, from legendary auteur Ingmar Bergman, arguably remains the gold standard for this kind of piece, but that has the benefit of being a miniseries, having a full six hours to dive into these people.

For a film confining itself to the traditional length of a motion picture, one of the few that manages to find that perfect balance comes perhaps unexpectedly from the director of some of Hollywood’s most beloved movie musicals, Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), with one of his two features released in 1967, Two for the Road. The key to tracking the relationship at the center of Donen’s film lies in its unique structure. Two for the Road opts to take the timeline of a couple and puts it in a blender, presenting moments of their lives completely out of order. Because of this storytelling device, the logical cause and effect of decisions made in a traditional narrative are removed, making the film feel like glimpses of memory only to be made sense of by the characters’ emotions.

Two for the Road chronicles Joanna and Mark, played by the outrageously charismatic and photogenic movie star pair of Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, through the years on their many holidays in France, from their initial chance meeting on a boat to their talks about possibly getting a divorce. Intertwined with these two timelines are about a half dozen other ones, flowing from one to another without any sort of signal as to where it will jump to next. We see not just the evolution of their love for one another but also the evolution of their social stature, in what company they keep, what accommodations they stay in, and what cars they drive.

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The timeline of the possible end of the relationship ostensibly serves as the superstructure of the film, with all the others working as indirect flashbacks. By choosing to craft the film this way, moments that may have occurred several years apart in reality can be placed right next to each other as emotional companion pieces. This could be as simple as cutting form Joanna and Mark hitchhiking to them in a car ignoring two hitchhikers, or it could be as heavy as cutting from Mark trying to sneak in food underneath his clothing into a fancy hotel they barely can afford in order to not spend more money in their fancy dining room to them silently eating across from each other in that very restaurant. Played out linearly, these could be seen as groan worthy, on the nose callbacks in the later scenes, but instead, ripping them from their timely context asks the audience to gauge the two scenes as one. No longer is this an instance where things used to be good, and now they are not. This alternatively plays as a singular moment filled with highs and lows, authentically capturing a feeling in a long-term relationship where real work needs to be done to maintain it.

None of the timeline switching is done haphazardly. The screenplay from Frederic Raphael knows the exact right place to jump to after every scene, and the way Donen visualizes these jumps clearly indicates every move had to be carefully planned out, rather than found in editing. So much of Two for the Road’s scene to scene movement is done with unconventional match cutting. A typical match cut takes the composition of one frame and essentially mimics that same composition for a new scene, most famously the ape throwing the bone in the air cutting to the spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Two for the Road, on the other hand, almost does a practical match cross fade.

For example, to go back to the aforementioned scene of them hitchhiking to them passing hitchhikers, we see Joanna and Mark on the side of the road hitchhiking as a car passes by them. Then there’s a cut to a shot looking down the road at another car approaching. Next is a cut to inside the car where we see slightly older Joanna and Mark in the front seat. We then return to the same angle as the first shot, with two new people hitchhiking in the same spot, as Joanna and Mark’s car passes by. Not only is this just a fun, lively way to keep your film moving, but it shows that each timeline has a way of invading another timeline, making you unsure of when things happen and ultimately saying that it doesn’t matter when they do.

Though Joanna and Mark never explicitly call out memory in the film, the structure closely mirrors the actual experience of remembering one’s past. If you arrive at a place you’ve been before a few times, you will first recall one of those times, and that memory will lead you to another memory, which in turn might bring up an emotional connection you have to a memory that happened nowhere near there. Thinking back at your relationship with someone, be it romantic, friendly, familial, or anything else, rarely, if ever, do you recount that relationship in perfect chronological order in your head. You may start with your first meeting, but then you could jump to a time when you got mad at that person for knocking over a lamp or think about a funny joke that person told you while waiting for an Uber outside a restaurant. Memory has its own pace and structure. It flows as it likes.

Notably, the only moments of the relationship we see are the ones occurring on these holidays. We are not privy to some of the “bigger” moments of the relationship, such as their wedding, buying a new house, or having a child. While ecstatic instances in life, they are not the moments that define what your relationship is. They are more occasions, like the courtship or the breakup, that act as convenient dramatic storytelling points. The discussions of wanting to move because you are not happy where you live and how you feel about the house after you have moved far better illuminate the state of a couple’s communication with one another than the day you sign a check and get a set of keys. Two for the Road thrives on these scenes because it is not dependent on hitting certain events to tell its story.

Stanley Donen and Audrey Hepburn’s first collaboration was the light as feather, charming musical Funny Face, co-starring Fred Astaire, one of the countless movies where two people fall in love because they are the leads of the film. That picture puts in the most minimal of efforts as to why these two people who don’t have that much in common and are twenty years apart in age should be together. Ultimately, you go along with it because Donen and Hepburn are in such control of their seemingly effortless charms. Two for the Road, while dealing with plenty of weighty romantic topics, never spares that same charm the two had for Funny Face, as well as their second film Charade. The film needs Donen’s playfulness as a director to juggle all the various timelines and to find all the humor, life, and love between these two people. Hepburn and Finney’s comedic and dramatic chops match Donen’s energy seamlessly. Two for the Road is not a somber meditation on the nature of love. This is an inventive, exciting, complicated, and enormously stylish work that shows what it is really like to love another person, for better and worse.

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