Julie Delpy is the thinking man’s ideal Frenchwoman–at least in her screen persona of Celine, the enchantress she created in Richard Linklater‘s cult films, “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” An etherial porcelain blonde, Celine is sexually knowing yet unthreatening; independent but vulnerable; articulate, principled and a bit flaky. Better yet, she has a way with a Nina Simone song (see final scene of “Before Sunset”) that would have kept even a steadier husband than Jesse from flying home to his wife. Now with “2 Days in Paris” (opening August 10th by Samuel Goldwyn Films and Red Envelope) multi-hyphenate Delpy makes her bow as a filmmaker.
Because Delpy’s screen double feels so contemporary, it’s easy to forget that at 37 she has long been a cinematic presence, performing at age 14 in Jean-Luc Godard‘s 1984 “Detective,” and gaining international celebrity in Agnieszka Holland‘s 1991 “Europe Europa.” Yet since attending New York University Film School in 1989, Delpy has struggled to launch her own feature. Finally, the financing for “2 Days” fell into place–a success she attributes half jokingly to one-liners about blow jobs and condom size. In making this ribald romcom, Delpy virtually functioned as a one-stop shop. She not only wrote, directed, edited, composed the score, and co-produced, she also stars as a Frenchwoman in love with an American.
Delpy’s Parisian-born Marion is a mercurial photographer. Jack (Adam Goldberg), her boyfriend of two years–and ex-boyfriend in real life–is an interior designer with acute hypochondria. Following a European vacation, the New York-based pair stop for 48 hours in Paris, where Jack must contend with the French language, braised rabbit, questionable hygiene, Marion’s dirty-talking family, and a bevy of her flirtatious ex-boyfriends. The couple spends so much time bickering, you wonder how they don’t implode from within. In fact, at times the film seems a bleakly comic update on the couple Celine and Jesse of “Before Sunset” might have become, God forbid, after two years down the road together. A rambunctious mix of autobiography, raunch, and quirky comedy, “2 Days” garnered praise at the Berlinale, along with robust foreign sales.
IndieWIRE recently got face time with Delpy and discussed her take on romantic comedy, full body scans, and empathy for male insecurity. Mirroring her screen image, Delpy is charming and a bit scattered, laughs readily, has a touch of baby fat and claims to shun gyms, and favors unfinished sentences. Unlike many filmmakers who get serially interviewed in a hotel’s hospitality suite, Delpy considers a question as if hearing it for the first time.
indieWIRE: How did you get the idea for “2 Days in Paris”?
Julie Delpy: “Um, I wanted to make a comedy on a couple breaking up. I know [laughs] that sounds pretty bad [laughs]. And I wanted to make a first film and it’s the first thing I wrote that people gave me money for. I’ve been writing other things that I didn’t get the money for.”
iW: Like the film about Japanese soldiers during WWII, in Japanese, and set in the Pacific?
Delpy: “Yeah, a friend advised me to make a lower budget movie as my first film, one that would not be too different from what people are used to seeing me in. And since I’d co-written “Before Sunset,” I knew if I presented something in the same budget scale, it would be easier to finance. I can’t even get the rights to that book [about WWII]. It’s written by a Japanese soldier. He doesn’t want to give the rights to a French woman.”
iW: Are we looking at a sexist attitude here?
Delpy: It’s definitely easier for a woman to do a romantic comedy than a war movie. It’s assumed a woman doesn’t have a sense of what action is. It’s funny, because people who make action films haven’t had more action in their lives than a woman. Their idea of action films is based on other films, which is something women can do.
iW: Who financed “2 Days”?
Delpy: A German indie company called 3L, and Rezo, a French one.
iW: Is there any truth in your claim that Marion’s line, “It’s your ego that’s too big for French condoms, not your dick,” helped clinch the financing?
Delpy: It made people laugh in a very politically incorrect way. I think [the financiers] got that it was going to be a romantic comedy but with an edge to it. It’s easier for Europeans to give money to a movie that says a blow job is what brought down American democracy… It was shocking in Europe what happened with Clinton. To make such a big deal out of so little… For Europeans a president having an affair, especially in France, is a joke. No one cares, it would never bring this kind of trouble to a country.
iW: Why did you attend NYU Film School instead of IDHEC [the prestigious French film school]?
Delpy: I wanted to live in New York. And I didn’t have the connections to get into IDHEC. In the U.S it’s all about money. In France it’s all about who you know.
iW: I saw lots of New Wave influences in “2 Days”–the long takes, jump cuts, voiceovers.
Delpy: I love Godard. One of my favorite scenes in “Breathless” is the scene in the bedroom. It goes on and on and on. But it would be impossible for me to try to imitate him. When I made this film I didn’t think of any other filmmaker. Yes, of course I’m going to be influenced by Woody Allen–and Lubitsch, Blake Edwards, or Chaplin. Even Scorsese‘s comedy, which I think is so good, y’know in “King of Comedy.” I also watched “Raging Bull.” I always thought of Marion as Jake LaMotta, this fearless, angry kind of person. And I watched “Jaws” four times before I did my film, because I thought Frenchmen are a bit like sharks.
iW: Yet you seem specifically to be channeling Woody Allen’s way of obsessing, especially in the character of Jack with his hypochondria.
Delpy: I think I’m highly neurotic and I’m highly hyponchondriac. I gave Jack the hypochondria. But I’m more a hypochondriac than anyone in that film. I get a lot of scans. I know every organ of my body. If you start checking, you’re full of little things. I’ve done it so many times, I actually know all my deformities inside out–scar tissue in my lungs, a little cyst in my brain, I have this, I have that. I know it all [laughs].
[Her cell phone rings] “Oh no, I thought I cut it off. Y’know what? I’m going to stuff it under the pillows.”
iW: Forgive me for dwelling on this, but in your film I heard the French version of Woody Allen-style kvetching.
Delpy: Kvetching [laughs]. It’s funny, because I love Woody Allen and never thought of Woody when I was making the film. Now that I see the film I can see where people can see that. But it came from a true place in me. I’m not sure how he’d handle a racist cab driver.”
iW: What part of the Marion character is Julie Delpy?
Delpy: I talk a lot, that’s the thing in common. I express a lot of my feelings verbally.
iW: But she’s also a bit hysterical and off the wall…
Delpy: I’m not really like that. I avoid confrontation. When I’m on set I never snap at anyone. I don’t have a temper. But I like Marion for being that way. If a horrible racist taxi driver [insulted] me, I don’t think I’d have the balls that she has. I’m an actress, if someone punches me in the face I’ll never work again. So I’m careful.
iW: You’ve said you wanted “2 Days” to be an anti-“Before Sunset.” In what way?
Delpy: Well, the film is set in the same country, the same city, with a French-American couple. It was my way to lure the financing in. But at the same time I wanted to do a movie that’s very different. If I wanted to do a movie in the style of “Before Sunset,” I’d call Ethan [Hawke] and Richard and we’d write a third episode.
iW: Is that in the works?
Delpy: I don’t know if we’re going to do it… [“2 Days”] has a different vibe than “Before Sunset.” It’s about a relationship falling apart, more comedy than romantic.”
iW: There’s lots of humor in your film, but you don’t paint a pretty picture of a couple. Where does that come from?
Delpy: My experience is that relationships can be difficult, hard work. I love to be in a relationship. I’m in one now. It’s going quite well.
iW: An American?
Delpy: No, he’s German. I’m a very independent person, I love being alone, writing and doing music and stuff. It’s just a question of finding a person who [also] loves privacy, their separate life. I live in West Hollywood, he lives in Venice [California]–actually we live together. But work time we spend apart, which is good.
iW: “2 Days in Paris” has a certain off-the-cuff roughness, which I mean in a good way. Were you going for that look?
Delpy: We shot guerilla style, sometimes, without permits. And we shot in HD, using a Sony 750 camera–a camera that you can bring into small places. I also wanted to use a long lens. So the person is in focus but everything in the background is out of focus and blurry. That way it feels like you’ve stolen the shot in the streets of Paris. It’s got the vibe of a documentary style.
I knew that with the 20 days we had to shoot…we’re not going to be able to achieve like a perfect clean look anyway. So why not take the decision to make it like that? It works with the subject matter of the film.
iW: Wasn’t it embarrassing to work with your parents? Especially considering all the sex talk?
Delpy: My parents are both actors [Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy]. My dad is very open minded. I told them what they had to do in the film and they agreed to be these characters. My mom agreed to play the ex-hippie, who slept with Jim Morrison. Which she never did in real life. If I had not cast them, they would have kidnapped my cat and blackmailed me.
iW: Both French and American culture take a beating in your film. How did reactions from the two cultures differ?
Delpy: It works for the two cultures, but I notice that people laugh at different moments. The French don’t laugh that much at the racist taxi driver. They’re kind of like, ‘Oh shit, it’s one of those, where’s this going to go, because it can get really bad.’ The Americans laugh more [at that scene], it’s not right in their face like for Parisians.”
iW: What did this film tell you about yourself?
Delpy: I made the film so fast I didn’t have time to analyze what I was saying. And then I see the film and it’s all about men’s fear of castration basically. The dad talks about castration, the cat has been castrated. There’s that photo of Jack with balloons around his penis to lift it… It’s all about men’s erections and castration and men’s fear of losing their masculinity. It’s about my empathizing with men, fearing their position as men in society nowadays, with us women being so strong. I feel for men in a way. I want to protect them.
iW: What’s your next project?
Delpy: A film called “The Countess,” an independent film based on a murderous 17th century Hungarian countess. I’m playing the lead, the other female lead is Radha Mitchell. We also have William Hurt and Vincent Gallo. The financing is in place.
iW: “2 Days in Paris” sold to 54 countries. How do you account for its international appeal?
Delpy: It’s amazing for a French movie. I think it’s because people laughed. When I did interviews afterwards with Russians, Brazilians, Taiwanese, they [said], ‘It made me laugh.’ I said, ‘How did you relate to a French-American couple?’ But they identify with someone in there. And the film is very lively, with the family being so crazy. Maybe the appeal is the dysfunction of it. Maybe every family is dysfunctional, and that’s the only thing in common throughout the world.