"How do lesbian birds make babies?"
"Are you sure?"
Such is the conversation between Katja (Sabine Wolf) and Isa (Karina Plachetka), two middleclass German women in their late 30s who are happily wed and now want to go one step further: motherhood.
Anne Zohra Berrached's Two Mothers (Zwei Mütter) engagingly chronicles the duo's obstacle-strewn journey, which is based upon the actual experiences of several lesbian couples identified in the end credits. Adding to the reality is the casting of many of the subsidiary characters (doctors, sperm donors, a pharmacist) with their real life counterparts. For example, Dr. Marten Van Santen is portrayed by Dr. Marten Van Santen, and very convincing he is.
Commencing in the first few minutes with tender lovemaking, the film quickly changes focus and concentrates on Isa's fruitless phone calls to various sperm banks everywhere from Munich to Hamburg. Apparently, while Germany has sanctioned "registered life partnerships" for same-sex couples (Eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaft) since 2001, full marital unions have still not been legalized. Although approaching an evenhandedness in most areas, some rights are still not completely in the grasp of gay couples. So it is with artificial insemination for the LGBTQ crowd, which the screenplay claims is only administered by five to six doctors across the country. After locating an MD who will service lesbians, the not-affluent Katja and Isa discover they must also meet financial requirements that do not apply to heterosexual couples.
Finally, an amenable physician is found, and the costly treatments begin. Eleven inseminations and many months later, the relentless Isa, who will be the birth mother, is still barren, but she's not the only one distraught. Increasingly, Katja is stressing out about how both the financial and emotional costs of this tot-trek are affecting their once perfect relationship. For example, in the kitchen, perusing Isa's shopping bag, she notices over a half dozen pregnancy tests and only one cucumber.
Isa finally does come around, acknowledging the economics of their situation. Forced to entertain a less certain fertility route, she enters an apothecary and states, "I'm looking for something that can inject sperm into the vagina." The woman at the counter showcases several syringes and then recommends that Isa see a veterinarian.
Instead, a home impregnation kit is purchased, and the couple sign onto a sperm donator web site. Now the interviews begin with a motley group of candidates, some who desire to directly ejaculate into Isa as opposed to into a jar. Worse, some of the more desirable applicants insist on becoming part of the forthcoming child's life if one of their spermatozoa unites with an egg of Isa's.
"I want to be the daddy," Katja murmurs. Stepping into Ingmar Bergman territory, Katja begins withdrawing. What role will she play if Isa is the mother and a man shows up every once in awhile claiming to be the father? And what about the vacations she and Isa used to take -- and the hugging and loving that are deteriorating a bit with Isa's ascent/descent into motherhood.
Splendidly acted, Two Mothers is a brisk 75-minute, matter-of-fact look into the inevitable risks of complete assimilation into what was once considered a "heterosexual" lifestyle. With marriage comes the possibility of divorce. With children comes the possibility of an ebbing intimateness. Yes, there are also the joys, the Legos, the hugs, the anniversaries, and the family trips to the Black Forest and Disneyland Paris, but that would be another film.
(Available January 13th on DVD. Available for preorder.)