by Alvin G. Burstein
This subtitled French film, available on Amazon Prime,written and directed by Filippo Meneghetti, is a debut effort that packs a jarring punch. Its exploration of a passionate
relationship between two women at an age some French would delicately call “certain” shatters any presumption of attenuated sexuality in the elderly, evoking the onlooker’s
anxieties about what Freud called the primal scene, the child’s disturbing fantasies about parents’ bedroom activities. The two protagonists, Mado and Nina, don’t just
love one another, they urgently, desperately need each other.
The two have had a life-long relationship hidden from the world. We meet them in their seventies when they are struggling to abandon pretense, and move to Rome, leaving Mado’s married children and grandchildren behind, openly to live together.
In a way, the basic plot line is familiar. They are, like Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers. On the verge of this disruptive change, their intense relationship is challenged on multiple levels. Mado is fearful about her offsprings’ reaction, evoking resentment in Nina. Then Mado suffers a stroke, becoming aphasic and partially paralyzed. Their
previously private love life becomes invaded by outside actors blind to Mado and Nino’s need for each other: care takers not motivated to care about Mado, but seeing her as
a source of income, medical people who work to force Mado into institutional compliance with their drugs and regimens.
The tension generated by our watching the couple’s struggle against these alien elements is intense and unremitting. It would be a spoiler to provide the outcome.
To describe it as moving or stirring or powerful are understatements.
However, I can justify a theoretical sidelight. As I watched the film, my thoughts turned not only to Freud’s speculations about the primal scene, but to another, more contemporary psychoanalyst, a Frenchman, Didier Anzieu. Anzieu was impressed with the infant’s need for physical contact, its need to be touched and held, to cling. He made reference to Harry Harlowe’s famous study of infant monkeys raised in an artificial environment in which they had access to a wire model that held a nursing bottle and a terry cloth model to which they could cling. Though the infant monkeys would visit the wire mother for food, they spent more time with the terry cloth mother and turned to it when stressed. Harlowe concluded that the need for contact, for someone to cling to, was an early and urgent need during what Freud famously called the oral stage. Although the study was criticized because the animals raised in these artificial surroundings suffered from later lack of social skills, Anzieu was convinced that the need to be touched and held was early and urgent. And it is clear that Moda and Nina needed to be close, not just socially, but physically, and that their need was all-consuming. I was struck by the aptness of the French title of this film—Deux. A single word whose sense is Both.