Acclaimed French film Two of Us is available now on digital and on demand. The Golden Globe-nominated film focuses on a secret romance between two elderly women that becomes difficult after one suffers a stroke. ComingSoon Managing Editor Tyler Treese caught up with director and writer Filippo Meneghetti about the overwhelmingly positive reception for the film and the care that went into portraying the romance.
Check out our full Filippo Meneghetti interview below.
Tyler Treese: You tell a very passionate love story, but due to the stroke, so much emotion is expressed non-verbally. Was that a challenge to depict?
Filippo Meneghetti: That was a clear intention with my co-writer Malysone Bovorasmy, we wanted to avoid the strongest emotion and the strongest thing to go through the dialogue. At the end of the day, cinema is about what we are filming, the images that we make. I guess that also leaves more room for the audience to gather their own emotions about the story … I really wanted not to push the emotion toward the audience, but to let them experience the story the way they feel when they wanted.
The film explores such an interesting romance. A lot of the time, romantic films feature young people in their physical peak and here we have an older romance depicted so truthfully, and going through a lot of difficult things. What really made you excited to direct such a film and tell this specific story?
There are several ideas that go into that, but one thing about the age of the character that was important to me, was that I have the feeling that our society is obsessed with youth and the perfection of the body. The body becomes almost a fetish or something. I have a problem with that. I have a problem as a person, as well as a filmmaker because of course, we feel bad about ourselves if the model are just those perfect young bodies that we cannot have all the time.
So it was important for me. I feel the responsibility to produce another kind of image. Images that are an honest representation of aging people was very, very important. Showing that the wrinkles and everything, and showing that you can still be beautiful and charming and live your life fully when you are in your 70s. You didn’t go for a surgery or anything. So, I had the chance to have these two wonderful actresses that were brave enough to let me do it.
The two leads both put on an incredible performance, and they’re dealing with some really difficult subject matter. Can you just speak to working with them and what went into making it such a magical on-screen performance?
Both of them, they have a legendary career behind them. Barbara Sukowa, the legend of independent, cinema, and Martine [Chevallier], she hasn’t done much cinema, but she’s one of the most famous theater actresses in France since 30 years. You have been for 34 years at the Comedie Francaise. So they made me this gift of trusting me on my first feature. The interesting thing was that they are very different from one another. Since it’s a love story, I guess, love is a lot about chemistry, and so I had this idea, this feeling that two very different actresses could make a good match. They could have good energy coming out of them on-screen and of the encounter on-screen.
Also there was this idea of using for Madeleine a theater actress since she has no words. So working with somebody that is used to project things far away from her, I had this idea that once she is speechless, she could, with very little element, still be able to make the audience feel these emotions. On the other end, Barbara, she has this wonderful talent and charisma, and energy that she brings with herself and from her career. The good thing for me was really that they trusted me enough to go the path that we wanted to go.
The romance depicted is so pure, and the film ends on a scene with them kind of dancing. Can you discuss the impact of that ending? Was that always the ending you had in mind?
The film had a very long financing and developing a story, we did work on the film for like six years before shooting. The whole thing took seven years. So we had time to think about it and to think over and rethink, fortunately. The ending went through different ideas and options, but the one thing that we wanted since the beginning was the ending to be kind of contradictory. Meaning that the audience, as a room [would] watches it to feel the way they want it to feel. I have this feeling that in life, the important moments of our lives are often very contradictory. In the most tragic moment of your life, there are some enlightening aspects or moments and the other way around. I really wanted the movie to have that kind of ending. I wanted that to be something that you can read and feel both ways. It can be optimistic or not, whatever it depends on the way each and every spectator wants to feel it. That was very important.
Not only is it representation for an elderly romance, but it’s also about an elderly gay romance. How has the reception been within that community been? Have they reached out to you?
Oh, yeah. That was a true gift that the film made me. The film has [spent] one year and a half through festivals first and then releases in different countries. Meeting the audience in the countries where cinemas are open, like now it just opened in Italy two weeks ago, so I’m meeting the people in movie theaters, which is wonderful. I was kind of scared about it because I’m a man. I started to write the story when I was like 33 and my co-writer also was my age pretty much, even younger. So I really was concerned about this idea and trying to get it done rightfully and truthfully. It was a true gift that through the meetings with the audience or messages, emails, or letters that I received.
I received very good feedback. Very touching feedback. People telling me their own life stories outside of movie theaters with tears in their eyes. That was super moving. At the beginning, I felt I made this film with some people that I have dear to me in mind and thinking that it was a private kind of gesture or something. Then I found out that it was resonating and speaking about the stories of so many other people around the world. It makes sense to work seven years for that, and it makes a lot of sense.
It’s really a film that’s been resonating globally, and I assume that’s very amazing as a creator to see. It’s been so well received at different festivals. It got a Golden Globes nomination. Seeing so much critical praise for the film. How rewarding is that? Because this was very clearly a passion project.
Oh yeah. It is very rewarding and it was also very surprising. It is my first feature film. You don’t expect that. I mean, I wasn’t definitely expecting that. Especially for all the years that the movie was really fragile. I mean, I doubted a lot that we were going to make it, so knowing that and knowing how many times where [we] almost [ended up] not doing it. Then we did, [so] that is very rewarding. That gives a lot of energy and motivation for future projects because it shows that it is possible to touch people. To share your emotion with people that you don’t know, and I guess the magic of cinema is a lot about it.
The two leads, they’re in very different places with the acceptance of their romance. One has her children that she’s afraid of opening up to and making it public. We’ve seen a lot of progress when it comes to like lesbian and gay acceptance, but especially for older individuals, there’s still very much a lot of fear there. Can you discuss depicting that in the film and just the different areas they were in? Was it important to show that even though we’ve seen so much progress, it’s still a very difficult personal thing?
The structure of the film is made in such a way that somehow, Madeleine, who at the beginning refuses to come out, and Nina, she [was] fed up with the pretending thing with their family, they kind of switched places for the film. Because sickness somehow is liberating in a very contradictory way, as I was saying before, because after a stroke Madeleine really wants to do all the things that she’s able to do, which are not much of course, because she’s speechless and has several problems. Everything that she can try to do, she’s trying to come out and to break this situation.
While Nina, kind of contradictory and surprisingly, she is the one that will [be] the imposter somehow with the family playing the neighbor again and over and over. These things that they switched places through the film was very interesting to me because it is related to the fact that in life no matter what you feel sometimes you do what the circumstances lead you to do. The relation that you have with this kind of self-censorship and social censorship are very difficult to decrypt and play out. On the other end, it is true that this kind of situation is still very difficult.
I guess progress is not a straight line and [that’s] why we were writing the film. We were writing in Paris. We were living in Paris at that time and every week, and now talking about the year 2014-2016, for a long period every week, there were people coming in Paris to gatherings against the [Marriage for Everyone] law that the parliament was passing. So these people, the fact that there were a hundred thousand or a lot of people anyway, I don’t remember exactly how many, but a lot of people that every week were coming to Paris and protesting so that other people cannot get married. That was very striking, and it was very stimulating and motivating because we were writing and we were thinking [of] this story. We were thinking that we were still confronting something, an issue that is very sensible in society and that needed to be addressed for this kind of story.