Two Mothers director Anne Fontaine and star Naomi Watts.

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I’ve already written that this year’s Sundance is my 20th. And Friday night at the Eccles theater was one of the most memorable debuts of a new film in my two-decade relationship with this festival. The film Two Mothers, about two best friends (played by Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) who have affairs with each others’ sons, was unveiled to a response that surprised French filmmaker Anne Fontaine.

On stage for a Q&A after the World Premiere of her film, Anne Fontaine said that she didn’t quite know what to make of the laughter that erupted at various moments during the showing. Two Mothers has polarized audiences here at Sundance, one review called it both the best and worst film of this year’s fest.

Sitting down alongside Naomi Watts for a conversation on The Daily Buzz, Anne Fontaine and the actress responded to the reaction, drawing a distinction between American and European moviegoers and considering why people sometimes laugh at situations that aren’t funny at all.

“We were sort of sitting there thinking, oh my goodness, is that the reaction we want?” Naomi Watts related. “But, in speaking to people after, I think they understood it.”

Two Mothers is a mix of reality and fantasy, set in an idyllic setting that heightens the outrageousness of what is seen on screen. Sensual camerawork, a lush landscape and suggestive music heighten the experience.

Clearly anticipating the alluring love story that would eventually emerge on screen between two acclaimed actresses and a pair attractive young men, the audience expressed loud laughter as scenes built towards the sex in the movie.

“I couldn’t imagine that [the response] would be like that,” Anne Fontaine explained during a conversation on The Film Society’s Daily Buzz. “It was so direct.”

The crowd also laughed as the characters later dealt with the ramifications of their own actions.

“Watching the screening, I didn’t know what the laughter meant,” Naomi Watts added. She said upon after reading Christopher Hampton’s script she was drawn to the loneliness and fear that drives these two women to sleep with each other’s sons.

Here at Sundance, the cast and crew were surprised by the response from the packed Sundance theater. Fontaine and Watts agreed that the subject matter of their new film is both awkward and a unique experience for an audience. So, perhaps that explains the laughs.

“It was clearly an instinctual reaction to what was going on on the screen and I think before they had a chance to process it, it just came out,” Naomi Watts elaborated, “I’ve been in situations were I certainly wasn’t supposed to laugh. Like even at a funeral or if someone tells me some bad news I am capable of laughing because I can’t deal with it, it’s too much and it’s uncomfortable and I think that’s what was happening.”


Critics Roundtable:
Anne Thompson – Thompson on Hollywood
David Poland – Movie City News
Marjorie Baumgarten – Austin Chronicle
Mark Rabinowitz – Festival Veteran

Interview: Two Mothers
Anne Fontaine – Director
Naomi Watts – Star

Interview: Interior. Leather Bar.
Travis Mathews – Director

Interview: I Used to Be Darker
Ned Oldham – Actor
Kim Taylor – Actress

Festival Veteran:
Christine Vachon – Killer Films