Director: Andrea Niada
There comes a point in How We Are Now, this wonderful little observational documentary, when you forget that you’re watching a same-sex couple potter about their house. You’re simply watching the twilight years of a 60-year-old companionship. You’re watching, and imagining, if this is how young love always morphs into unconditional caring, and if feelings age as gently as the body. And you’re watching a day – a special one, the 83rd birthday – in the life of an ailing man cared for by his not-so-ailing partner.
Peter, who you sense is the extravagant and somewhat effeminate portion of the ‘marriage,’ asks the slower Douglas what he thinks of his last 83 years. He secretly expects lavish praise about their union. The sophisticated old British pensioner instead jokes about the answer being a huge question mark. Peter loses his playful streak, rolls his eyes and watches Douglas sharply, not impressed with the timing of his partner’s humour. To which Douglas, in the most husband way possible, chuckles nervously, trying to indulge him with a goofy song instead. An adorable nuance, this, both symbolic of their natural roles as well as our sudden perception of their unassuming ‘normalcy’.
Because at this moment, you’re also thinking this: the reason this film feels so undeniably special, and unique, and most of all, worth making, is because it’s about two men into their seventh decade of a relationship.
They don’t make just another couple, as much as we’ve conditioned ourselves to think so. They belong to the rarest of rare categories – gay, yes, but living together since the 1950s. Another era. Another world, even.
The reason this film feels so undeniably special, and unique, and most of all, worth making, is because it’s about two men into their seventh decade of a relationship.
Yet, beneath the surface of all that immortality, all that novelty, warmth, history and sheer single-mindedness, these are two frail human beings warming up to the concept of their mortality. Two very old men, whose equation and entire lives can be sensed in thirty minutes of fairly mundane film and timeworn banter.
How We Are Now talks about a lot of things without really speaking. It is about a different kind of love trapped within the same confines, and limitations, of life. And it’s made with tenderness and respect, virtually mirroring the attributes of the foundation Douglas and Peter’s sense of home is built on.
It opens with Peter, a retired actor, exuding the upbeat theatricality of a caregiver, nursing a nappy-wearing Douglas into the early beginning of their day. Later on, we see Peter dealing with his own health issues, stealing a few winks, but privately, away from his weaker partner’s gaze. They’re soon asked about sex and sexless-ness in separate rooms, and only Douglas – who insists he is closer to the coffin – waxes philosophical about the concept of afterlife.
Throughout, in between all their alert ‘camera’ moments, they’re prone to the typical old-age habit of filling silences with their own mumbling – more often than not speaking to themselves rhetorically, interspersing polite Englishness with the ambiguity of boredom. The makers seem to have spent just enough time with them to infuse a little consciousness into their thoughts, without being entirely oblivious of strangers inhabiting their space.
The film tears viewers between an endearing desire to end up like this couple – flaws, regrets, resentments et al – and an innate fear of reaching this final stage.
The film tears viewers between an endearing desire to end up like this couple – flaws, regrets, resentments et al – and an innate fear of reaching this final stage. It leaves us with the perfectly comfortable conclusion that loneliness can occur in twos. That love assumes an understanding that goes beyond physicality, affection and form with time. And that’s a fine thing, given that happiness is merely a more functional manifestation of any given sadness.
Watch How We Are Now here: