• Golden Globe Awards

Two of Us (France/USA): In Converstaion with Filippo Meneghetti

France-based Italian director Filippo Meneghetti picked an unlikely theme for his debut: the love story between Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), both in their seventies. Yet, even though Two Of Us constitutes a rare occasion in cinema’s canon, it fits right in with a brand new trend that seeks to unveil the struggles of women as they painstakingly emerge out of their homebound obscurity. Meneghetti’s film could very well serve as an allegory for the coming-out of women, and the pain of truth.
You are a young man and a new director, and you chose older lesbian love for the subject of your first film. How are you personally connected to it?
My first link to the story is a personal one. In my teenage years there were two people who were very important in my life since they were the ones you passed on to me the passion for cinema … (My friends) went through similar difficulties, especially one of them, and at the time (their story) really touched me and struck me in profound ways. I always thought that if one day I have the opportunity to reach an audience, I would have loved it as a homage gesture to give something back to them. On the other end, the film is invented. The fact that the characters are aging comes from the need I feel to do something not against but about society’s obsession with youth and perfection of the body. I don’t feel comfortable with it. (This) will then make us all uncomfortable with our own bodies and our own way of existing… And since I’m a filmmaker, I feel the responsibility to make images that represent the world in its complexity. I believe that you can be beautiful – charming anyway – even at 70 years old, like the two actresses who are shown in extreme close-ups without much make-up. That was important to me.
Especially because in Hollywood we have been deprived of stories like yours. European filmmakers have a different take on mature romantic love.
I wanted to show that you can be 70 and still alive and kicking. You want to love, you want to have sex and you want to experience life at its fullest. I hope I will be the same… I mean, I don’t know yet because I’m not at that age… By the way, I use cinema as a tool of knowledge. I try to make films on life issues that I wonder about. Somehow, my idea is that while making the film I will get to know more about life and about people … That’s what I really enjoy about filmmaking – the human adventure; that you can learn, understand, feel.
Did you learn more about women making this film?
First of all, I wrote the film with Malysone Bovorasmy. She was always on the set, so I had a woman by my side throughout the process, which was very important… When you make a film you learn things, but also, strangely, I realize and I learn things even after the film (is completed) … I realized things about my film talking with the audience after the screenings. (Audience members) came to me and told me things they felt or about their own personal experience that mirrors the one in the film, and then… I learned things with them. Life is full of surprises, and filmmaking as well.
We talk a lot about the male gaze vs. the female perspective these days. Do you feel that audiences are more ready now than other times to receive female stories?
I have to say that I was concerned about the issue of the male gaze throughout the whole process. I was talking with my female crew how do we film the (actresses’) bodies, how to do that rightfully, without objectifying them. It was a lot about having the right distance, being either very, very close so you could experience the body or taking a step back or even two, being in the other room, and them being in the shade. I didn’t need to show everything. (I wanted) to create room for the audience so that everyone could find their own way of looking at the characters.  Do I feel that the audience is ready (for female stories)? I think it’s the wrong question. If there is this censorship right at the beginning, then where are we going? I’m Italian, so I have the experience of Italian television in the 80s, 90s and 2000s giving people what they thought (the audience) wanted to see, which was actually pulling (the audience) down and down and down till there was nothing in the end (laughs). My job is to do the opposite! I need to push and push and push, and if the audience is not ready, at least, maybe – this is my goal – some of the audience will shift slightly. Then I’d be very happy.
One of the most difficult jobs in cinema is to make the viewer feel the love and sexual attraction between characters. You don’t have hot, sexy scenes nor the young and the beautiful, yet you succeed in conveying the heroines’ closeness. How did you go about it?
There are two main factors. The first is to find the right chemistry between the actors. Either it happens or it doesn’t, and in my case it did. (Sukova and Chevallier) are both great actresses with very different personalities – it usually works better like that. Another “strategy” was to show their love by the lack that they feel when they are not together. If they are ready to go far in order to get together again… then this means that the love is deep. You define what matters to you by how big an obstacle you are willing to surpass in order to get there. Sometimes you can show (things) by their absence.
But it’s still a mystery, isn’t it?
What works? Of course! Everyday life is a mystery! That was another thing. We didn’t want to show just a romantic story… Love is not just beautiful… There are so many layers, and some are not so nice, some are made of obsession, hatred, solitude… Why do you love somebody? Why do you need somebody?… Our hope was to get a little of that complexity into the film.
The fact that these women keep their love secret is an important part of the structure of your story. But was it important in other ways too?
The film is a lot about (self)-censorship, the way you build your own self-perception through the demands of society or family. Out of this grows a self-image that is very hard to deal with because it’s there 24 hours, 7 days per week … I think everybody can relate to the idea of playing a role and lying, and I think it’s an important part of our social experience.
But when the truth comes out, it can be very dramatic and healing at the same time.
Life is very contradictory, especially (concerning) the important issues. On one hand, their secret keeps the fire going, and on the other Madeleine’s sickness sets her free. In the end, through her suffering, she owns her choice … Life is a paradox. Sometimes you get a hit, you suffer, but then there is also something luminous, something enlightening.