Two For The Road

"What kind of people just sit in a restaurant and don't say one word to each other?" Albert Finney asks Audrey Hepburn as they head upstairs to consummate a relationship formed on a carefree European hitchhiking venture. A beat passes, then comes Hepburn's reply: "Married people." The same question surfaces throughout 1967's Two For The Road, a clear-eyed, openhearted, and ultimately open-ended portrait of a marriage. The answer remains the same. But even after spending years sharing, at least occasionally, a marital table of uncomfortable silence, Hepburn and Finney don't really understand why it has to be that way. Is it just them, or does the institution eat couples alive?

A product of the same remarkable moment in '60s cinema that brought editing to the fore and produced John Boorman's Point Blank and Richard Lester's Petulia, Two For The Road unfolds from many points at once, following Hepburn and Finney at several moments in their relationship as they make their way across Europe. In one scene they ask, "What do people have rows about?" In another, "When did it all go wrong?" But Singin' In The Rain director Stanley Donen and screenwriter Frederic Raphael are after more than simple irony here. The film's surface is made up of familiar '60s romantic-comedy elements, from Hepburn's haute wardrobe to the Henry Mancini score to the breezy interaction between the stars. They banter, bicker, and make up with witty repartee. It's what movie love is supposed to look like, which makes it all the more heartbreaking to know that it's destined to sour. "I'll never let you down," Hepburn tells Finney as they get engaged. "I will," he replies, but we already know this. It's heartbreaking.

But it isn't hopeless. Even in the scenes of their late-marriage crisis, when youthful exuberance has given way to arch discomfort and the teasing has developed a dry, mean undertone, the couple remains recognizably a couple. It's impossible to imagine them apart from each other, if only because memories and habit bind them together, as the film's mix-and-match chronology brilliantly illustrates. The seeds of their pleasant unhappiness can be seen in the past, but so can their potential salvation. Put together, the pieces make up a shared life. They might even make up love.

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