Two Days in Paris
A woman for all seasons
This article is from 2007.
Julie Delpy talks to Kaleem Aftab about her feature film directorial debut and tells him why she finds it hard to sit still
By directing Two Days in Paris, Julie Delpy joins the esteemed ranks of Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Charlie Chaplin, John Cassavetes, Jodie Foster, Liv Ullmann and Kevin Costner – actors who have decided to take the seat behind the camera while continuing with their day job. The results have been decidedly mixed. For every Warren Beatty (the Oscar-winning Reds) there has been a Tom Hanks (Does anyone remember That Thing You Do?).
For Delpy, the 38-year-old star of the Three Colours trilogy, Killing Zoë and Broken Flowers, directing a film is the fulfilment of a lifetime ambition. She says, ‘I’ve always wanted to do it. I was very nervous and it took me forever to get my first film made because people didn’t trust me. Every time I wrote a script it was quirky and people don’t like quirky films, they want a formula. Usually financiers don’t want to take risks.’
So, like many prospective filmmakers, Delpy had to scale down her ambition and write a low-budget script to prove that she could cut it as a director and get her first feature film made. Previously, the actress has helmed two short films, Blah Blah Blah (1995) and J’ai Peur, J’ai Mal, Je Meurs (2004) as well as an experimental movie shot in-real time, Looking for Jimmy.
As if taking the director’s chair and acting wasn’t enough, Delpy also edited Two Days in Paris and composed the music too. Is there anything this multi-talented Parisian can’t do? ‘I love movies and I love telling stories. I just feel it is a great medium to mix visuals and music together. But I didn’t do everything; I did give away the lighting, and set design.’
The template for her comedy drama, Two Days In Paris, was taken from two films that Delpy made with director Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. But where the relationship in Linklater’s movie is at its fledgling stage, the guy and girl in Delpy’s film are stuck in a rut after two years of dating.
Delpy plays Marion, a Frenchwoman living in the United States who decides to take a trip to Europe with her American boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg from Zodiac and Deja Vu) in an effort to rekindle their romance. We join them in Paris, where it transpires they are spending their last two days in Europe after a trip to the canals of Venice ended up being decidedly unromantic. From the moment we meet them it’s instantly clear why they don’t get on. Jack is a neurotic American who thinks that every man he meets is on a mission to steal his girlfriend. In complete contrast Marion sees life as a series of playful anecdotes and doesn’t help Jack by constantly lying about the nature of her relationships with the ex-boyfriends they bump into.
In a case of art imitating life, Delpy cast her mum, dad and sister as her character’s parents and sibling. They are the cardboard cut-outs of a French liberal couple completely at ease with the sex life of Marion and happy to carry around photographs of her near-naked boyfriends. If in real life mum and dad are half as embarrassing as the characters they play on screen it's small wonder that Delpy spends so much time in California.
Delpy admits to having had a series of disappointing relationships with men herself, although she does currently have a boyfriend. Of the gender gap, she says, ‘Men constantly need attention, don’t they? They need to be taken care of, like little boys. But I love men. They are so hyper-sensitive. I know a lot of men who get offended when you say one word to them. They’re drama queens.’ Having said that, in real life Delpy admits she is more like the character Jack than Marion.
In a case of never the twain shall meet the Parisian uses the disputing couple to poke fun at French and American attitudes. ‘I have a lot of fun picking at the differences and the clichés which are not lies. Because it is true if you go to a French market you will see rabbits hanging, that is the way it is. I wanted to play with this cliché of the French and have fun with it. The couple are a microcosm of all this sentiment. But in the end the French and Americans don’t hate each other. It is more of a fascination. Although the whole thing of new President Nicolas Sarkozy jogging in NYPD T-shirts is so stupid. I’m embarrassed for him.’
Delpy has been in the public eye since she was 14 when the mighty Jean-Luc Godard gave her a role in Detective. The daughter of actor Albert Delpy and actress Marie Pillet, she was destined to live life somewhere around the camera. World audiences, and in particular those on Hollywood’s casting couches, took note of the young Delpy for her appearance in Agnieszka Holland’s underrated Europa Europa and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy. In the early 90s she went to the famous New York University Film School and began winning roles in big budget Hollywood movies like The Three Musketeers.
But it was in American indie cinema that Delpy best showed off her remarkable talent, first as the eponymous character in Killing Zoë and then as Celine in Before Sunset, the performance that had boys around the globe wishing she was the girl on their arm.
Despite this early success, her career later flatlined. She had a short stint on ER in between many movies that didn’t cut the mustard. The only bright moment was reprising the role of Celine in Before Sunset. It was during this frustrating period that Delpy started to expand her horizons. ‘In the time I wasn’t working I started developing other films and playing music. [She released a self-titled album in 2003]. Some people get depressed and bored when they’re not working. They drink a lot and party and others just work and I’m the kind of person that will work. I love to learn things and I learned how to play the guitar and keyboard and learned to use computer programs for writing music. I also write scripts whenever I’m not acting.’
The excellent Two Days In Paris is the result of all this downtime, and, now that Delpy has caught the directing bug, she doesn’t want to stop. She has already written a period drama, The Countess, that will begin shooting in the Autumn. Those male actors-turned-directors had better watch out, because there’s a new girl in town.
Two Days in Paris, Cineworld, Fountainpark, Dundee Street, 0131 228 2688, 25 Aug, 9.30pm, prices start from £6.50 (£4.55).