Sat. Sep 18th, 2021

In Spain, an elderly husband gently lifts his wife out of bed in the morning. In the US, a couple sits on a lawn at their town’s Fourth of July celebration, gazing at the fireworks display. In Brazil, a woman wakes her partner and wishes her a happy 65th birthday while peppering her with kisses. It’s long-lasting “happily ever after” that many of us dream of, and it’s explored with detail and diversity in Netflix docuseries My Love: Six Stories of True Love.

Based on Mo-young Jin’s My Love, Don’t Cross That River, it’s a composition of six international love stories examining the enduring vitality of love, juxtaposed against the melancholy of ageing and past hardship. Over the course of a year, the couples’ lives and love were documented as well as their tribulations and declining health. All pairs featured have been together for over 40 years, and despite living in different countries, demonstrate striking similitudes.

The couples still sing together and to each other. They share jokes and laugh. They flirt and effuse about the other regularly. They make it clear that their connection is for life. “You need your wife. You’re in bed, she’s by your side and you reach out and see the thing you need the most and say, ‘What a beauty. May God take care of her for many years to come,’” says Augusto, the Spanish shepherd who has been with his wife Nati for 60 years. Satyabhama, an Indian cotton farmer, doles out her marital devotion more succinctly: “Our bond extends beyond this lifetime.”

In My Love, intimacy doesn’t fade with age, rather it becomes more inosculated by the day. “I think that there’s going to be a lot of interesting similarities across the episodes of how people communicate love,” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, the director of the US-centered episode, tells the Guardian. Sheldon followed family farmers David and Ginger Isham of Vermont, who have been together for 59 years. During her time with the Ishams, she noticed an ingrained appreciation between the pair. “They certainly don’t have to agree on everything and they have such different ways of communicating,” she says. “But they both respect each other to the utmost level. I’ve never actually seen a couple that when each are speaking, they don’t talk over one another. When Ginger’s speaking, it’s like David hangs on every word, even if he’s heard that story a thousand times.”

Director Carolina Sá observed a similar dynamic when following Nicinha and Jurema in Brazil. “They, the generation of Nicinha and Jurema and especially in their relationship, they have this patience with one another. I don’t think we have this any more. We’re losing this.”

“They care [for] each other very much and very deeply. They have the same dreams and the same care with the family, with the grandkids, with each other. They have fun together. This is something. They have fun together! Can you imagine? They [have been] together for more than 40 years and they [are] still having fun together,” Sá says.

For Sá, the assignment presented an opportunity to show more than just committed partners. She intentionally searched for a match typically marginalized by the conservative social systems of Brazil. Nicinha and Jurema, black lesbian domestic workers who are practitioners of the persecuted Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion, fit the bill exactly.

“Mostly, when [people] think about the Brazilian family, they [think] of a white Brazilian family,” she says. “[But] most of the [white] families, they are raised by these women, by black women, by poor women. This was very important to show that a Brazilian family could also be represented by two women, black women, maids. Because this is our majority of people.”

Ginger and David
Ginger and David, family farmers from Vermont. Photograph: Netflix

“In Brazil, in the moment that we’re living [in], I think to have a couple with so many [intersections], being gay, being black women, being from [the] favela, being this religion, I think it’s so beautiful. They are resistance,” she says. “We have the violence, the poverty, the racism, gay people being killed. My goal was to show the power and the beauty of this family in this favela … The series is about the joy of love, even if we have difficulties and things to struggle with,” Sá says.

Another facet of the series is adversity, particularly related to ageing in a changing world. During the series, several of the subjects face serious health problems like that of Saengja Jeong and Yeongsam Cho, together for 47 years, in Korea. They work side by side farming abalones. Yeongsam dotes on Saengja, giving her massages but often admits guilt for having worked her so hard. During filming, she reveals she has intense back pain and advanced hearing loss.

In a love letter for their 47th anniversary, he urges her: “Let’s live happily together for the rest of our lives. I love you. Stay healthy. Let’s have a long happy life together.” Yeongsam later laments: “Whenever you get sick, I can’t do anything. Like a legless octopus. I don’t need anyone. You’re all I need. So stay with me for a long time. And take me with you when you go.”

It is a sentiment My Love encapsulates, as it considers the contrasting difficulty of ageing alongside the beauty of time spent in an eternal partnership. It isn’t all despair.

“To age … You understand time in another perspective Jurema has a lot of problems, a lot of issues [with her] health, but the beautiful thing that she has is this relationship with time. This is wisdom, to understand that time is a precious [thing]. You’re not running and running and running away and running, trying to get time. You’re on time. You’re on time, you’re there, living this moment. This is something that I think you have with age, and when you are young, you don’t get it. You’re just running,” Sá says.

Sheldon mirrors the sentiment. “More than anything, I would like the episode to just remind people to treasure the small moments because that’s what it’s made of. The entire episode is made of small moments that they have and cherish. It’s not about the big things. We think about life sometimes from a bird’s-eye view of these big things that are happening, but the meaningful small moments in between is what makes up our lives.”

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