Julie Delpy’s richly observed 2 Days in Paris details a collapsing relationship abroad.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
From a distance, 2 Days in Paris seems to be constructed entirely of cinematic readymades. There’s the City of Light itself, renowned as a backdrop to romance. And writer-director Julie Delpy, playing a chatty, love-loving young Frenchwoman, much as she did in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Plus Adam Goldberg, seemingly substituting for Ethan Hawke as the oversensitive American abroad. It’s as if the film was designed to be mistaken for the third installment in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy.
To certain extent, it was. Delpy, an NYU film school graduate who’s been struggling for years to make her first feature, decided to accede to other people’s expectations – to a point. Like Before Sunrise, 2 Days in Paris opens on a train somewhere in picturesque Europe. But this time the destination is not the euphoria of budding romance. Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Goldberg) have been together for two years, and are highly aware of each other’s faults. Their trip to Venice has been a disaster, as Delpy reveals in a quick-cut series of flashbacks that owes less to Linklater than Roger Avary (who directed the actress in the underrated Killing Zoe.) Paris will be worse.
A highly tattooed New York interior decorator, Jack is a hypochondriac and neat freak; he’d like to wipe down the entire city with sanitizing gel. So it’s no surprise that he hates France and the French almost as much as it and they seem to hate him. The twist is that Marion, a photographer who now lives in New York, doesn’t like Paris that much herself. She can’t resist confronting “fascist” cab drivers, and has a contentious relationship with her parents (played by Delpy’s actual mother and father, veteran actors Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy). The city teems with Marion’s ex-boyfriends, most of whom she’s happy to see. When she meets one of them, however, she makes a terrible scene. As such episodes accumulate, Jack and Marion gradually switch roles, until he almost seems the reasonable one.
Nothing irredeemable happens. Marion’s wonderfully obnoxious dad taunts his possible son-in-law about his aversion to the French appetite for baby mammals, and Jack suffers mold allergies, a pretentious party, and a group of American Da Vinci Code-breakers. Also, he’s briefly arrested and barely avoids a burger-joint bombing. But the real source of Jack and Marion’s hysteria is their own relationship. They’re both too tightly wound to let any possible provocation slide, so the more mishaps, however trivial, the more inclined they are to believe that their affair is doomed. After a spat about sex, Marion falls asleep while Jack watches a classic movie that exemplifies his increasingly paranoid mood: M, Fritz Lang’s edgy account of the hunt for a child murderer.
Delpy, who also scored the film and can be heard singing with Nouvelle Vague on the soundtrack, clearly modeled aspects of Marion’s character on her own. She even cast her own cat in the film, and named him Jean-Luc after Godard, who directed her in King Lear and Detective and encouraged her to become a filmmaker. And since Goldberg is a real-life ex, Delpy was able to draw on intimate details of his life and neuroses. The resulting characterizations are richly detailed and basically plausible, if clearly exaggerated for comic effect. Both Marion and Jack can be grating, but they’re never merely generic rom-com types.
Ultimately, it’s the rom-com format that hampers the film. Delpy sometimes gives the impression that she wanted to go further, but decided to play it safe. The story needs more unexpected moments like the odd aside about an anti-globalist “fairy” (played by Goodbye, Lenin star Daniel Bruhl) who counsels Jack about love and fast food. Still, the movie is more pointed than most humorous tales of romantic mismatches, as well as most directorial debuts. For Marion and Jack, 2 Days in Paris is a trial. For Delpy, it’s a test she very nearly aced.
2 DAYS IN PARIS ( * * * )
Directed by Julie Delpy. • Starring Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg and Daniel Bruhl. • R, 96 min. • At the Osio Cinemas.