Two of Us: Eros in the Third Age

Filippo Meneghetti’s movie Two of Us, released online in the United States on February 5, will be representing France at the 2021 Oscars and has just been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Golden Globes. Nina (Barbara Sukowa, who plays Lola in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s eponymous movie) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier, from the Comédie Française) are longstanding lovers living a small town in Southern France. In order to maintain their secret relationship, the two women in their seventies pretend they are little more than friendly neighbors.
© Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The idea for the screenplay was sparked by a trip to Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet. “I was visiting a friend, and there were two widows living opposite one another on the floor above,” says Italian director Filippo Meneghetti. “They would leave their doors open to keep each other company. The landing between the two doors became a living area.” This simple metaphor was used to describe a forbidden romantic relationship between two women of a certain age.

While the landing is a crossing point, it is also a frontier. Madeline, pressured by Nina, has to come out to her family and reveal her secret. “My father was the only love of her life,” says her daughter, refusing to accept the truth. Unable to change her role as a mother and a wife, Madeline falls into silence, which eats away at her to the point of creating physical symptoms. Her resulting illness throws the two women’s project to move to Rome together into disarray.

The Right to Desire

The movie defends love as a feeling that throws off the shackles of age, heteronormativity, and physical and mental health. Very few films depict intimacy between the elderly like Michael Haneke did in Amour, which represented France at the 2013 Oscars and won the award for Best Foreign Language Film.

While homosexuality is one of the themes discussed in Two of Us, the movie also focuses on the social taboo of eroticism in old age. The subject is “not a great sell” in the cinema world, according to the director, stating that it is a “taboo for finding funding.” The film is the result of five years of writing with co-screenwriter Malysone Bovorasmy and the unwavering desire to fill this gap in collective representations.

“I feel that aging and the elderly are a gray area,” says Filippo Meneghetti. “As if older people were happy to just wait for the ‘peace of the senses,’ as we say in Italian. I wanted to offer an honest portrayal of desire through the ages, contrasting with society’s obsession with youth and the perfection of the body.”

Humanizing the Body

Madeleine, filmed in the alcove of her bathroom, rubs cream into her neck and chest. Nina sits on the bed, watching the woman she affectionately calls “Mado.” Slowly, Nina walks towards her, moved by desire, and kisses her on the neck. This was an intentional choice, according to the 41-year-old director. “The camera had to find a middle ground, neither falling prey to voyeurism nor hiding the vitality and sensuality of these bodies.”

© Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

While the images have a certain responsibility in how they represent taboos, the director also wanted to open the audience’s eyes and avoid limiting the movie to the main characters’ age and sexual orientation. “We wanted to convey the realities of women who fight, the women we see every day. The course of people’s lives is what I connect with most.”

The movie is subtly staged between a claustrophobic interior and a forbidden exterior where “the two apartments mirror the protagonists’ souls,” while also providing a metaphor for their impossible relationship. “We worked with the set designer to ensure that Madeline’s apartment was filled with objects from a suffocating life, whereas Nina’s was sparse, reflecting her distress and the facticity of lying.”

An Enthusiastic Reception in America

According to Variety magazine, Two of Us is a “an entirely unique and uniquely vital lesbian love story” which stands out from the genre’s canons such as Todd Haynes’ Carol and Blue Is the Warmest Color, which was also nominated at the Golden Globes the year it was released. “The drama builds and builds until the last seconds and never really lets up,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s a striking debut from Meneghetti, in his first feature film.”

The director is still astonished by such unexpected success. “Being the French candidate at the Oscars was an incredible surprise. And I just couldn’t believe my ears when I heard it was nominated for the Golden Globes!” However, he remains humble about his role as a representative: “You have to remember that this is above all a European movie, covering Italy, Germany, and France.”

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