Two Lives’s educational impetus is to announce to the world that even picture-perfect Norwegians continue to pay a heavy price for the horrors of WWII. Norway’s war wounds harken back to the country’s German occupation, during which local women ended up pregnant by occupying soldiers, and had their children sent to orphanages in Germany. Set in 1990, immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall, the film recounts the story of one of these so-called Lebensborn children, Katrine (Juliane Köhler), now reunited with her mother, Ase (a sadly underutilized Liv Ullmann), in Norway under mysterious circumstances, and with a family of her own. When a young lawyer, Sven (Ken Duken), starts nagging the family to testify against the Norwegian state for reparations and Katrine refuses, the world of lies she’s built her life around begins to crumble.
Georg Maas’s film is so didactic, if not obvious, in its documentary-esque desire to explain an unknown chapter of history that there’s little room for one to emotionally engage with its characters. Flashbacks, which share the aesthetic affectation of Madonna’s grainy close-ups in W.E., make sure we understand the geopolitical context of the time in a way that the infinite nuances of Ullman’s very face could have done with less literality and much more poesis. There’s pleasure in watching a melodrama unfold without its usual elements: sentimentality, emotional outbursts, and rigid borders between good and evil. This is a melodrama that’s built, ironically, on a lack of emotion. The film’s characters are capable of doing some unimaginable things, both selfish and self-less, but demonstrating affection is not one of them.