2 Days in Paris: Julie Delpy’s Romantic Dramedy

Julie Delpy’s romantic dramedy “2 Days” in Paris” is very much in the vein of Woody Allen’s early films, say, a combo of the fun and laughs of “Annie Hall” with the more serio and bitter tone of “Manhattan”–call it “Marion in Paris,” after the main character’s name, played by Delpy.

The other strong influence on this auteurist endeavor-Delpy wrote, directed, edited, composed the music and stars in her debut picture-is indie director Richard Linklater and his intimate films, “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” in which Delpy co-starred with Ethan Hawke. As such, the dialogue-ridden “2 Days in Paris” belongs to a cycle of mid-1990s movies that I described in my book, “Cinema of Outsiders,” as “Walking and Talking.”

“2 Days in Paris” is literally a walking-and-talking picture since the characters are always debating and on the move, from the very first scene, set on a train (also a tribute to Linklater’s aforementioned works) and throughout the comedy, when the duo argue, reconcile, and again argue, in various locales of Paris, with a restless camera impressively recording their moves and counter-moves.

The harsh, often bitter and cynical tone of Delpy’s candid comedy may be the reason why it took long for her movie, which premiered at the Berlin Film Fest in February, to play theatrically in the U.S.; it’s now released by Samuel Goldwyn.

What’s meant to be a Parisian getaway gradually turns into anything but romantic or erotic for a high-strung New York couple. As writer, Delpy challenges the prevalent romantic theory of opposites attract, since in her picture, the disparate characteristics of the couple complement each otherup to a point. At least half of the time, the lovers also drive each other crazy.

Delpy’s Marion is a thirtysomething French photographer whose boyfriend of two years, Jack (Adam Goldberg), is an American interior designer. After a less than idyllic vacation in Italy, they stop off in Paris for two days, which turns into a classic “fish out of water” tale. Jack is forced to contend with a new language, a crazily unfamiliar culture, Marion’s sexually frank and permissive family, and, worst of all, a bevy of flirtatious ex-boyfriends.

It’s one of the film’s running motifs that wherever they go, Marion runs into a former flame. In one public scene, set in a restaurant, Marion is so upset to see a desirable lover who dumped her that she assaults him-verbally and physically. This (and other) motif turns her film, like similar episodes in the popular TV series, “Sex and the City,” into a comedy of embarrassment-or comedy of humiliation-par excellence.

Once in the City of Lights, her native habitat, Jack and Marion begin to see each other in a different, less appealing light and the cultural divide between them continues to grow. We are led to believe that both Jack and Marion are high strong and headstrong.

To her credit, Delpy maintains a nice feel of suspense. You never are sure, not even at the end, whether the couple will overcome their increasingly growing oppositions. Here is a romantic comedy in which the obstacles to overcome far surpass the initial physical and subsequent intellectual attraction. There’s always the possibility that the two days in Paris will be Jack and Marion’s last days as a couple. But the alternate possibility is viable as well, that the harsh, sobering experience in Paris will form the nucleus of a new, more honest life together.

Remarkably, Delpy doesn’t just look at the relationship from a distinctly female perspective, but in her insightful and bitingly dissection of contemporary relationship, she is often more critical of Marion than of Jack. In most American romantic comedies, the men are womanizers, obsessed with sex, can’t commit to one woman, etc. In contrast, in “2 Days in Paris,” Marion is the temperamental and unstable partner (she may be bi-polar), a free-spirited, sexually aggressive woman, who’s flirtatious with men and knows exactly what kind of position she favors in bed–she likes to be on top.

Despite a number of sex scenes, the film doesn’t make clear to what extent the sexual relationship is–or ever was–mutually satisfying. In one scene, Jack gets so insecure that he claims the condoms are too small for him (an inside joke since French men are known for their well-endowed organs). In another, as soon as they begin to make love, they quarrel, or the act is interrupted by Marion’s mother, entering into their bedroom to discuss some routine manners, like laundry.

Made on a small budget and reportedly shot in a very brisk 20 days, “2 Days in Paris” looks good, offering a non-touristy view of the City of Light that highlights both the grandeur and intimacy of a city that has served as a locale for romantic comedies and dramas more than any other metropolitan in the world. The movie benefits from its limitations. Shooting in a city like Paris is tricky and challenging because of the busy traffic and congestion, all of which are captured naturalistically by cinematographer Lubomir Bakchev.

When denied permits to shoot in her favorite locales (Delpy is Parisian), she substitutes with other sites that look or feel like the places she likes. One such locale was the famous Pre Lachaise Cemetery, resting place for statesmen and artists such as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Chopin. In “2 Days in Paris,” Jack insists on visiting the grave of Jim Morrison (“The Doors”), who is buried at Pre Lachaise, and an amusing scene follows, showing the site full of star-struck fans paying homage to the rock star.

In another poignant and hilarious scene, designed to depict the difference between French and American personalities and sensibilities, the couple attends a gallery opening featuring a selection of sexually edgy art. Fittingly, the scene was shot in one of Paris’ most popular cinemas, L’Accattone, a mini-Cinematheque where they show the best art films and documentaries.

For a big party scene, where Jack learns more than he bargained for about Marion’s past from a former boyfriend, Delpy used a friend’s multi-leveled apartment. A number of scenes were shot in close quarters in small Parisian flats, a task effectively met by shooing in HD with a Sony 750 camera.

One of the film’s strongest scenes is a family lunch at Marion’s parents’ apartment shortly after the couple arrives in Paris. Marion’s father, fancying himself a gourmet, and eager to tweak Jack’s delicate stomach, prepares a French delicacy–braised rabbit-shown with close-ups of the bunny’s head as well as of Jack’s increasingly tense reaction.

Though Delpy has claimed that “2 Days in Paris” is a personal but not autobiographical work, several characters and situations are based on her life, such as the lunch scene written by her as a tribute to her parents, veteran actors Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy.

Cast

Jack – Adam Goldberg
Marion – Julie Delpy
Lukas – Daniel Bruehl
Anna – Marie Pillet
Jeannot – Albert Delpy
Rose – Alexia Landeau
Mathieu – Adan Jodorowsky
Manu – Alex Nahon
Taxi driver – Ludovic Berthillot

Credits

Samuel Goldwyn Presentation of Rezo Films (in France)/3L Filmverleih (in Germany) release of a Polaris Film Prod. & Finance, Tempete Sous Un Crane Prod. (France)/3L Filmproduktion (Germany) production, in association with Back Up Media.
Produced by Julie Delpy, Christophe Mazodier, Thierry Potok.
Executive producer, Charles Paviot.
Co-producers, Werner Wiersing, Ulf Israel.
Directed, written by Julie Delpy.
Camera: Lubomir Bakchev.
Editor, Delpy, Etienne Boussac, Jeffrey M. Werner.
Music, Delpy.
Art director, Barbara Marc.
Costumes, Stephan Rollot
Sound, Nicolas Cantin

Running time: 95 Minutes.
MPAA: R.