"I’m starting to look like Christopher Walken. I’ve had people say that to me. It’s a little scary," Julie Delpy told me during our interview about her sixth feature, "Lolo," which FilmRise opens stateside on March 11. It’s the sort of flippant non-sequitur you can expect from the French writer, director and actress whose trademark is her manic charm.
So, true to the form of her neurotic and often coordination-impaired characters, Delpy was strapped into an ankle brace for an injury that, yes, she assured, she brought with her to the festival, where her new French farce made its North American premiere.
Delpy writes, directs and stars in "Lolo" as Violette, a forty-something single mother and fashion director living in Paris who is romantically fretting over Jean-René (Dany Boon), a less-than-hip engineer who is not in her league. Their courtship gets heated with anxiety and confusion as Violette’s tyrannical teenage son Lolo (Vincent LaCoste) attempts to manipulate and control the relationship in psychotic ways, from drugging and humiliating Jean-René (during an encounter with Karl Lagerfeld!) to sprinkling his clothes with rash-making chemicals. It gets worse, which is why Delpy sees the film more as a comedic cousin of "Carrie" and "The Bad Seed" than as a rom-com.
Though perhaps too narrowly French to click with US audiences, "Lolo," while not quite as satisfying a meal as the "Before" trilogy or her "2 Days" films, is a sweet surprise from Delpy, a poison bonbon she injects with frank sexual dialogue that is true to how people talk. In France, anyway.
Ryan Lattanzio: Because of its sexual frankness, this movie is brash and funny in ways I wish more American films were.
Julie Delpy: Thank you. I like that. That comes up a lot, which says it’s not happening much in American film. It’s happening a little on American TV, like "Girls," but films are still a domain where women don’t talk frankly about sex, which is weird. Of course, not all women talk about sex this way, like someone uptight in the Midwest — not that the Midwest is uptight, but you know what I mean! — or like some housewife who’s never been out of their house. But I feel like a lot of women do talk like this. It was important for me that the women talked about sexuality, made fun of it, had no hangups, and were natural about it.
It’s unusual to have your kind of female perspective. "Lolo" is politically incorrect, as were "2 Days in Paris" and "New York," and it’s anti-puritanical. That’s why I enjoyed it. Politically correct is so boring.
Yeah, it’s so boring to me, and it’s not even a question because I do it in every one of my films. Political correctness bores me. Especially as a woman, it’s like you can’t really be funny. It’s changing a little bit, like Sarah Silverman is very politically incorrect. Sometimes she goes overboard. She always gets in trouble, which is really fun. I love the thing about her taking a shower with her mom and the water falling off her mom’s pussy and onto the daughter.
She’s here now too for her movie, "I Smile Back," as a drug-addicted housewife.
To get an award! [laughs] Is she paralyzed in the film? That’s the question!
Well, looking at your broken ankle right now, it seems you’re planning that for your next film.
I’m already working on it. I’m method acting right now.
In "Lolo" I also admired the "girl talk," the way the women talk about their rolls of fat, and their sagging, well, "pussies," as you wrote it.
Well that’s how it is. We talk about those things. I wanted to describe the kind of women that don’t censor themselves anymore. They’ve reached a level in life where they’re comfortable talking about everything. They don’t have those hangups about their looks as much. It comes so naturally for me to talk and write like this, because I talk like this!
I’m sure everyone is asking for your assessment of the state of women directors working today, because the big question in the US is "Why so little?" Is that a question in France?
Not as much. There are many women directors, but there’s a different approach. For example, it’s very hard to be a mother and a director. As a director, you leave town a lot, for long periods of time, so it makes it very difficult to be with your kid. It’s very hard for a mother to be away from her kid. It’s hard for a father, but for a mother comes the guilt. I don’t think men have that guilt of leaving. They might miss their kid, the emotional part is there. But they don’t have the guilt of leaving. Society has put a guilt on women when you leave your child, which you can’t help. Also it’s more natural for a woman to feel guilty in general. I was talking to an actress who was talking to a woman director and she was telling me that women directors have kind of quit making features because now they’re focusing on TV in LA, to be near their kids. I’m not making a film every year, so I can handle it. "Lolo" was shot in Paris, but the next film I want to do in the US to be as close as possible to my son.
Do you worry about the sexist labels that can come from being a director who is also a woman and a mother, especially from the media?
It’s a man’s world, especially in Hollywood. There’s this fear that women are "emotional." There’s this stigma about women being hysterical, that we’re more emotional, that we’re not as organized, that we can’t rule a set. I can imagine if a woman, on the internet, experienced what happened on "I Heart Huckabees" to David O. Russell, who was basically almost beating up people on set. It’s hilarious. He goes all around the set. Best moment in history. Isabelle Huppert’s just sitting there. I love Lily Tomlin, the way she answers, like, "fuck off." He’s screaming, throwing things, and everyone’s just waiting around like it happens every day. If a woman did that, she’d never work again for the rest of her life. Ever. I guarantee you, because she would have been labeled as "mad," "hysterical." She would’ve been put in a madhouse actually, in a mental institution or on Valium for the rest of her life. What he did, I don’t give a shit. People do whatever they want on their set. But as a woman, if I would even scream at someone once, it’s over for me. A man can get away with so much more. A "great artist" can get away with so much more; a woman can only be hysterical.
This film is basically like a horror movie. I thought about "Carrie" and "The Bad Seed."
When people ask what inspired me, it’s not comedies. It’s only dramas on this film, all the dark movies from the ’60s where the devil is actually the kid, because some people say, "Oh it’s inspired by your kid!" I’m like, "What’re you talking about? He’s six years old, he’s a sweet little bunny." It has nothing to do with that. It was more dramas like "Bad Seed," or "The Shining" — as a comedy!
In a lot of your movies there are psychotic or near-psychotic characters, and that’s funny. But in real life that would be terrifying.
Having a sociopath in your life is not funny at all because they destroy your life for real. I made it funny in the film, but being around sociopathic people and narcissists is really an issue. "Lolo" is a comedy, but it’s actually a tragedy in real life. We all have had our sociopath.
Everyone knows one. Or is one!
Or is one! That’s it. You’re being quiet. Maybe it’s you! No, I’m joking. But sociopaths are really charming people. That’s the danger. They can spend many years fooling you, but once you’re stuck with them, they’re really destructive. And when they’re your child, what do you do? It’s a nightmare because you can’t get rid of them. You never know someone is a sociopath until you’re in a room, by accident, and they don’t know you’re there. Only in private. When they discover that they’ve been discovered, you can actually fear for your life. I’ve felt that way. I wanted to exploit that thing and maybe even further in the future I will explore the sociopath. They fascinate me, because they’re so part of society and so hidden and so successful, usually. It’s really creepy.
Now I’m running a few things over in my head to make sure I’m not a sociopath.
You’re scared for yourself! But you see, already you’re not because sociopaths don’t doubt. They don’t question themselves. You’re more a neurotic. Wow, I’m, like, diagnosing you right now. I’m
like a doctor. Do I seem crazy? I’m a little bit crazy, right? Too much
tea. I become hectic.
As do the characters you write.
Yes, most of my characters are neurotic. They’re easy for me to write because I’m neurotic. If you give me a list of all the problems — Have you ever been depressed? Yes. Have you ever been suicidal? Yes — I have all the problems you can possibly imagine. But at the same time, I don’t. I’m stable in my own neurosis, I think.
The women you write, like Violette in "Lolo," Marion in the "2 Days" films and even Celine in the "Before" movies aren’t alike, and they aren’t you, exactly.
Not exactly. Violette has dedicated her life to her work, she’s put aside her personal life to just focus on her work and her kid. That’s it. She’s had no "woman’s life." I’m not like that at all. I’ve had relationships after relationships—not all successful.
You’re unafraid of debasing yourself in your films. You never try to make your characters seem glamorous or beautiful or perfect, which is what you see in a lot of American movies.
It’s annoying. I’m tired of seeing those women with the perfect hair, the perfect everything. They’re supposed to be junkies, but they’ve had their hair brushed. I can’t stand it. Oh my god. It makes me crazy. But they’re stars and they have a status, so even if they get out of it or play a junkie in a movie, they have to still look good. It’s really weird. It’s like people haven’t looked around them. They haven’t studied people. You see an actress on the screen and she’s supposed to be drunk, and fucked-up, and all she has is a little less makeup than usual. But her hair is still perfect. When I get drunk, nothing’s perfect. I’m a mess, and I throw up.