A version of this story about “Two of Us” first appeared in the International Film Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
In “Two of Us,” Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier star as two later-in-life women who have been a secret romantic couple for decades. The film portrays their domestic harmony, as they live in two different apartments on the same floor of a building in the south of France, with one unit simply a ruse. But after one of the women falls ill, the truth of their relationship slowly cracks open.
Director Filippo Meneghetti’s observant drama is France’s official selection for the Best International Feature Oscar. This week it was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the Foreign Language category. Meneghetti, a director of several acclaimed short films here making his feature debut, talked to TheWrap about how he shaped this tender romance.
The Wrap: “Two of Us” is a love story between two women with a long history together, but you don’t tell the story with any flashbacks. Was that deliberate?
Filippo Meneghetti: Very much. I wrote the film with a woman, which was important for me. We wrote the script over five years, and we always really wanted to avoid flashbacks. I believe that flashbacks are useful for other films, but not ours. The idea was to have something compact, like a straight, tense line. It’s a love story about self-censorship and the struggle against the gaze of other people, but we approached the story as a thriller in a way. Thrillers are about giving and hiding information. Every bit of information, when it’s revealed in the film, is a trigger for emotion.
What was the inspiration for telling this story as your first film? Is it based on something specific?
In my formative years, I witnessed the story of two people, a female couple, who gave me the passion for cinema. They were handing me over VHS tapes of movies and made me discover filmmakers who I love. I wanted to give something back to them. And then, somehow in life I’m always hunting for metaphors, and one day I came across the neighbors of a friend of mine, another couple of women. They had become widowed at the same time, so in order to keep each other company they were kind of sharing their two apartment. When I saw that I thought that could be the metaphor to tell the story of exclusion and self-censorship that I had in mind.
Did you create backstories for both the characters?
We wrote full backstories, full of details. But we strived to have a lot of information conveyed without dialogue, through objects and gestures. Showing the tip of the iceberg, as they say. Audiences are smart. You’re always kind of scared that they’re not gonna get it, but I realize that if you do your job right, you can trust them.
How did the casting of these two actresses change the film you had in your mind?
I knew I wanted two very different actresses, since that makes the chemistry work better. Martine is a theater legend, who I thought could melt quietly into her character, but Barbara has an energy and charisma I was looking for. As a person Barbara has nothing to do in a small town in southern France. I mean, in real life Barbara lives in Brooklyn, New York.
What was it like to first meet with them together?
We didn’t have much time to rehearse, which goes with the budget, and I was kind of scared because they are very different people, Barbara and Martine. But, oh, within 15 minutes they were talking about very intimate things from their own personal lives, love stories and so on. They were really getting along and I could tell it was nourishing their characters.
Without spoiling the film’s ending, can you talk about how you resisted the tragic arc of so many stories about gay relationships?
It’s funny, after our first screening in 2019 at the Toronto Film Festival, one lady in the audience approached me and said, “Thank you for not killing the lesbians!” Yes, the ending was difficult to find. We wanted to create an ending that was somewhat contradictory between tragic and happy. I think the best way to do that is to create room for the audience to find their own emotions.