Everyday gestures take on new levels of significance.
In Me Myself and Her (original titled Io e lei) the Italian director Maria Sole Tognazzi takes a magnifying glass to the lives of a lesbian couple in contemporary Italy. Federica (Margherita Buy) and Marina (Sabrina Ferilli) are a couple in Rome who have been living together for five years. The two women have a lot in common. Aside from the apartment, they also share the fact that they’re both on a new chapter of their lives, they’re both dealing with the pressures of aging, and they both share the same face cream.
For Federica, the new chapter is Marina specifically and women in general. Having been previously married to a man, Federica adamantly insists to Marina, to her college student son, to her ex-husband, and to herself that she is not a lesbian and simply happened to fall for Marina by chance. The logistics of her divorce and whether or not Marina played a role in it is left unclear, but the friendly relationship between Federica and her ex imply things were handled with minimal animosity.
Meanwhile, Marina is on a second chapter career-wise. Originally an actress, and one of sizable fame judging from the way the other characters talk about her, Marina is now a chef running a very popular lunch place that donates all its uneaten food from each day to charity.
The difference between the new chapters for each of these women is how comfortable they feel about them. Federica consistently reminds Marina that she isn’t a lesbian and refuses to show affection publicly or even acknowledge that the two of them are a couple, reflecting her internalized discomfort with admitting that she is attracted to women. Meanwhile, Marina claims to be perfectly content with the absence of acting in her life. She prides herself on how happy she is with her restaurant and talks to a reporter about how she lived openly as a lesbian even during her acting career.
The conflict for this couple arises when each of the two women starts to realize that they may not be entirely finished with the previous chapter. Federica runs into a man who was an old flame back before she knew Marina and she initiates an affair with him. Marina, on the other hand, is unexpectedly offered a minor role in a film when a friend of hers presents her with the script. She decides to accept, going against Federica’s wishes, and begins to wonder if she really has left acting behind as absolutely as she claims to. At the risk of spoiling things, each woman goes through her personal crisis, the relationship is thrust into and out of turmoil, and ultimately their love prevails and they decide to forgive everything and stay together.
Despite the predictability and unoriginality of the plot, Me Myself and Her still does several things worthy of praise. One of those is the development of the bond between the two women. There are long sequences, always accompanied by background music, depicting Marina and Federica just living their lives and doing everyday things. These include a scene of the two of them walking along the beach, arms around each other, scenes of Marina driving Federica to work, scenes of them watching their favorite TV show together. While seemingly banal and trivial, these scenes actually represent some of the most important parts of the film. There has been a trend of films being made about lesbian couples. The American Carol and the French La belle saison come to mind. The thread of commonality between Carol and La belle saison is their mutual embrace of the tragic. Both of those films examine a relationship that is somehow forbidden and a love that is somehow doomed from the start. However, in Me Myself and Her, there is no real and tangible reason why Federica and Marina cannot or should not be together other than Federica’s personal qualms. The film chooses to portray what is a very normal, very average relationship, which is an important thing for people to see, considering the number of films like this about heterosexual couples and considering the intensely socially conservative environment of Italy. The hesitance of Federica to embrace her lesbianism mirrors the hesitance of Italy to embrace her as well. Films that normalize this kind of relationship are just as important as films that tell tragedies about it.
Me Myself and Her is featured in the 2016 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center. It is directed by Maris Sole Tognazzi and stars Margerita Buy and Sabrina Ferilli.
Photo credits: Film Society of Lincoln Center.