ABOVE: NAOMI WATTS IN TWO MOTHERS.
"They're beautiful, they're like young gods," Roz remarks to her best friend, Lil. Roz is lying on the beach, admiring their two 18-year-old sons as they wade out of the impossibly turquoise ocean: tanned, muscular, free of chest hair, with their surfboards in hand.
This doesn't have to be an uncomfortable comment, but it is. If you've read any review of Anne Fontaine's new film at Sundance, Two Mothers, you'll know what happens next. 25 minutes later, Roz (played by Robin Wright) is sleeping with Lil's son Ian, and Lil (Naomi Watts) is sleeping with Roz's son Tom.
When we meet Anne Fontaine and Naomi Watts at Sundance following, the film has just had its world premiere. Fontaine and Watts are not interested in talking about taboos: "It's a story where we don't have to judge them, we have to be with them, through them, but never think, 'Oh, yes, that's wrong,'" says Fontaine.
Based on "The Grandmothers," a short story by Doris Lessing, Two Mothers is Fontaine's English language debut. "At the beginning, I tried French. I never dreamed to do an English-speaking movie," she explains. "I felt that it was not so true in French, not so powerful."
The story was originally set in Britain, but Fontaine moved Two Mothers to the coast of Australia—a veritable paradise of lush vegetation, oceans, and cliffs. "When I met [Doris Lessing], she said that the real story takes place in Australia," Fontaine tells us. "It was a country where you have incredible landscapes and very strong nature."
Roz and Lil's relationship with one another's sons is not the point of the film, insists Fontaine; Two Mothers is a tale of female friendship. "We have to understand what is underneath, what are the feelings, this very incredible friendship these two women have for such a long time. They follow that through their sons, they want to keep that inside their families."
"I think it's rare that you get two female roles in one movie—particularly both as strong as the other," remarks Watts. "When you see women in films together, they're often against each other, and this was... the love between them was so powerful."
Watts is right; Roz and Lil have been through everything together: childhood, marriage, children, deaths, affairs, and break-ups. They are never catty or competitive; they are one another's family, and a very accepting family, at that. It's a welcome change from the reality-show conception of female friendship.
"I actually have wonderful female friendships," Watts tells us. "We haven't gone through that kind of thing together—but where you're so connected and you live and breathe each other, the same air."
With blonde hair and blue eyes, Roz and Lil look and act like sisters. Their relationships are not, technically, incestuous, but what Watt and Fontaine want to focus on—this strong bond between the two women—is what makes it feel that way.
"It's not a story where you can stay in your armchair and say, ‘Okay,'" says Fontaine. "It needs a reaction. Even if you laugh, it can be because there is irony in the story, but also because you want to protect yourself—to say, "No, no. That's not possible."
"It's awkward, it's delicate, but they check in with each other the whole time," adds Watts. "I understood them, because they're moving into the next phase of their life, which is the emptying of the nest, and that's scary, that we're all going to be separated. The loneliness is about to get much worse. I loved that they were able to say, this is not forever, this is now, despite the fact that it was going to be painful."
Do Fontaine and Watts think a real friendship can withstand anything? "It's love. It's something so deep. They can forgive, and yes, I think that's beautiful," answers Fontaine.
FOR MORE SUNDANCE 2013 COVERAGE, CLICK HERE.