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Trailer for Controversial Film “Two Mothers”, Adapted from Doris Lessing

As of now in 2013, Doris Lessing is 93. She was born in 1919 and her second novel, published in 1956, was titled Retreat to Innocence. All of this, coupled with her round, sweetly wrinkled face and penchant for wearing her white hair parted at the middle and pulled back into a bun, might give one preconceived notions about her temperament, character and preferred subject matter. But if you’ve read Doris Lessing’s work, you’ll know she is no kindly, simple old lady doling out pearls of grandmotherly wisdom. Her writing is shrewd, difficult, complex, and nuanced, and has even been called inaccessible. It is as challenging to read as it is enjoyable. She has earned countless literary awards, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.

The Zimbabwe-born author is also not one to shy away from controversy, whether in reference to her politics – she was prohibited from entry to South Africa and Rhodesia for vocally protesting apartheid and nuclear armament – or her outspoken comments to those who would pigeonhole her as a femnist writer. Labelled a feminist by critics and readers time and time again, Lessing has repeatedly lashed out in response to the term, expressing extreme distaste for her perspective of trends toward the belittlement of men and male writers, under the guise of empowerment of their female counterparts. She has repeatedly stated that she finds the term and its followers grotesquely oversimplified, and wishes to distance herself from it.

That said, much or her writing inarguably empowers women, and she writes bravely about issues of gender and sex without batting an eyelash. Perhaps the most notable example is her 2003 novella The Grandmothers. In it, Lessing tells the story of two middle-aged women, best friends since childhood, inseparable for decades. The two grow up together, intentionally marry two men who are friends, and move in next door to one another. Eventually, when the two husbands are out of the picture, each woman begins an affair – with her best friend’s teenage son.

It sounds like the stuff of a juicy and perhaps distasteful romance novel. That alone might make one uncomfortable, but when squirm-worthy subject matter is put in the hands of a skilled writer like Lessing, it becomes more interesting, less black and white, and harder to ignore. The story is surprisingly Ask anyone who has read Lolita – a talented wordsmith can be expert at challenging our absolutes and making a reader question his or her own certainties and opinions.

It is likely that complexity and challenge that attracted French filmmaker Anne Fontaine to option the project, and it will be her first English-language film as director. The film adaptation is set and filmed in Australia, and is called Two Mothers. It premiered at Sundance in January, and so far is scheduled for various very limited release worldwide throughout 2013.

Here is a taste:

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