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Interview: 20 Minutes In Julie Delpy's Head

by Peter Sobczynski

Having stolen your heart in such films as "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," French actress Julie Delpy makes a grab for your funny bone with her directorial debut, the caustic relationship comedy "2 Days in Paris."

Although Julie Delpy is best-known as an actress–in Europe, she has worked with such leading lights of the cinema as Jean-Luc Godard (“Detective”), Leos Carax (“Mauvais Sang”) and Krzysztof Kieslowski (“Three Colors: White”) and in America, she has appeared in films ranging from dross like “The Three Musketeers” and “An American Werewolf in Paris” to such acclaimed works as “Broken Flowers” and her beloved collaborations with Richard Linklater “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” (for which she received a Oscar nomination for screenwriting along with Linklater and co-star Ethan Hawke)–she has long had an interest in working behind the camera. While maintaining her acting career over the years, she has studied directing at NYU and has made a number of short films. With “2 Days in Paris,” she makes her feature filmmaking debut with a quirky dark comedy that she directed, wrote, produced, edited and scored. In it, she and Adam Goldberg play a French-American couple who arrive in Paris to spend two days with her parents at the tail end of a long European vacation. While the set-up may sound vaguely similar to the Linklater films at first, it quickly becomes its own film–a caustic and blackly humorous look at relationships in which petty neuroses and jealousies begin to bear down on the couple from all sides with such unexpected force that it feels as if the entire City of Lights has suddenly conspired to turn on them. While those in the mood for a light romantic comedy may be a little surprised by the turns that it takes, those in the mood for a darkly funny take on contemporary relationships should find themselves more than satisfied.

Recently, Delpy sat down to talk about the film, her long fascination with filmmaking, exploring cultural stereotypes and the joys of directing your parents.

Although you are primarily known as an actress, you have clearly had an interest in directing for a long time–you attended film school at NYU and have made a number of short films before “2 Days in Paris.” When did this particular interest begin for you?

It started when I was about sixteen, just after my second film as an actress. I started writing a screenplay that I wanted to direct but I never got the money to do it. It started pretty early on. I love acting–there is a reason that I am in my film and that is because I love acting–but I like telling a story. I like the process of making a movie–writing, preparing, shooting, editing, mixing. Mixing was the hardest part for me because we had so little time to do all of the mix and so it was very stressful. I liked the whole process–even color-correcting. The process of directing is stressful but it is a good kind of stress. It’s funny–I always know when something is going to be a good stress or a bad stress. With a good stress, I feel invincible–I get strong and I can do anything and go on forever–and directing is like that good stress. I think I like the whole process. There is nothing that I like less. Writing can be painful sometimes because you are alone and lost. Writing a screenplay with someone can be fun but writing alone can be pretty stressful.

How did the idea for “2 Days in Paris” come about?

I thought about it a few years ago–I thought that it would be funny to do a movie about a couple in Paris for 48 hours and having it be a nightmarish situation from beginning to end. I thought about it back in 2001 and actually called Adam at the time and asked if he would do a film like that with me. It took me years to get back to it. I was actually talking to a producer about another film and I told him that I wanted to do a film about a French-American couple in Paris for 48 hours in which everything goes wrong. He said we should do it but we should do it with money instead of doing it guerilla-style. He brought me to Berlin and I had written about half the script–I had met with Adam a few times to talk about the script and his character–and on those 40 pages and the pitch, we got the financing. We didn’t get much money, though, and even when the script was finished, I sent it to companies in America–digital video and HD companies–and they didn’t return my calls because they weren’t interested at all. I didn’t have to do major rewrites–I did it for little money but it was enough so that I could do it. That was exciting for me–to finally get money after 20 years of looking for it.

Because of your presence and the initial premise of the film, it is likely that many people will be going to see it expecting something along the lines of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”. . .

That was how I got the money–I tricked people! I knew that no one would ever give me money for a movie. A friend of mine suggested that I should try to make something that might seem from afar to be like “Before Sunset” since I had just had some success with that, and then do something totally different in tone and style. Apart from Paris and a French-American couple, there is nothing in it that resembles that film. It is more of a comedy than a romantic movie while“Before Sunset” was more of a romantic movie–it is light but it is not a comedy. This one is more of a straightforward comedy. I love “Before Sunset,” don’t get me wrong, but it is just a different film. I think it turns out to be kind of a romantic film in the end but throughout the film, it is more harsh and funny with a twisted side.

It does sort of fit in thematically with “Before Sunset” in that it is just showing us a different period in a romantic relationship–the part where it is a couple of years down the road, the immediate bloom is off the rose and personality conflicts are beginning to arise.

Yes, but the characters are much different than Celine and Jesse because Adam is so much different–his character is neurotic and has lots of anxieties. She is very different from Celine–Celine would never attack people in the street or be vindictive. She wouldn’t spend five minutes with Jesse telling him about her life–she would just tell him to leave her alone and let her go back to her stuff. They talk a lot but that is my way of expressing myself–every time I write something, people talk a lot.

One of the recurring ideas of the film is the way that it plays with the cultural stereotypes and cliches that people think of when they think of the French and Americans. On the one hand, you have plenty of rude Frenchman and a running gag involving the increasingly hostile and insane cab drivers that your characters encounter in Paris while on the other, you have Americans who travel all the way to Paris to visit and the only things they apparently want to see are Jim Morrison’s grave and the locales that were utilized in “The Da Vinci Code.”

That is one of the things that brings the comedy to the film. I think it is funny that the first thing that he wants to see is Jim Morrison’s grave and the catacombs–all he wants to see is the depressing stuff. Two cemeteries–that is all that he wants to see! I just wanted to play around with stereotypes. I make fun of the French having stereotypes–I have the dad quizzing what he thinks is the dumb American boyfriend but the dumb American boyfriend happens to know a lot. The Rimbaud/Rambo thing–that is actually such a true thing. I wrote the scene and I gave it to my dad and when Adam read the scene and actually said Rimbaud, that was my dad’s very first reaction without even thinking. The first time I heard an American talking about Rambo, I couldn’t understand why he was speaking about Rimbaud–you can’t hear the difference.

What was the experience of directing your parents, who play your parents in the film, like?

It was wonderful. I wrote it for them–I talked to them while I was writing it about what they wanted to do with it. I really gave them things they could do that they could have fun with and it was fun to direct them because they were having such a lovely time. My dad doing the scratching of the cars–he was so excited. At the same time, they were very respectful of me as a director–they were listening to me religiously as actors being directed by a director. They were impressed that I was able to handle an entire crew. I wasn’t trying to impress them–I was just trying to get all the shots in the can.

“2 Days in Paris” also subverts expectations in regards to the approach that you have taken to the visual aspect of the film. In most films about Paris, you get the big, expansive shots of Paris but here, you have given it a more closed-in and claustrophobic feel that adds a certain level of tension to the material as though the city itself was closing in on the characters. In a way, it reminded me of the film “After Hours,” which also had that sense of an entire city suddenly and inexplicably turning on someone for no apparent reason.

I love that film, “After Hours”–it was one that I loved growing up and it did serve as an inspiration. I think the fact that we didn’t have too much money to do those wonderful shots of Paris–we were shooting in HD and wide shots don’t look that great in HD. Daytime in Paris is not that pretty in HD. We did one shot at sunrise that looked pretty because the light is different but if you do it in bright sunlight, it can be really ugly. We did narrow it to smaller things and it gets smaller and smaller. It was a choice but it was also because I had no choice. I would have loved to have been able to do a few shots in 35mm but we didn’t have the money to do that. We limited it but I think it works for the film in the way that I played with it–your limitations can be a strength, in a way. I like that look. One of my favorite movies is “Fat City,” which is all done with long lenses. I love those long-lens things where things are blurry in the background and only the people are in focus.

Both in Europe and America, you have worked with a pretty amazing array of directors over the years–Godard, Tavernier, Carax, Kieslowski, Linklater, Jarmusch–and I was wondering if you found that your approach to filmmaking as a director was at all influenced by your work with them. Obviously, comparing “2 Days In Paris” to Linklater is easy enough but one could also argue that the combination of sexuality and politics is reminiscent of the work that Godard was doing in the 1960's and that the documentary-like feel of the visuals is similar to what Kieslowski did in many of his works.

I am influenced by those directors that I love but I don’t try to imitate their styles because I don’t think that it would be right to try to imitate anyone. It’s funny–I was watching my film and then a friend of mine was watching “Breathless” at the same time and I watched the scene in the bedroom and I thought, “Oh my God!” I never tried to imitate Godard–my film is a comedy that is funny and Godard is a great genius and I am just a little filmmaker–but you become influenced by those people without even thinking about it. I didn’t think about it–I just did it without analyzing too much. When you have seen a lot of films and were raised watching them from a young age, you will be influenced by them in the way that you tell a story because your mind has been made that way.

n terms of audience reaction to “2 Days in Paris,” have you noticed any difference between how American and European viewers respond to the film?

They are not that different. The Germans love the line about speaking German because it is a reference to them. The French get a little nervous in the taxi scenes–some people laugh and some go [sharp intake of breath]. There are little things here and there, like the bit where Adam says “I’m a huge Val Kilmer fan”–he ad-libbed that line and I kept it because I thought it was funny–the French don’t laugh at all at that because they don’t think of Val Kilmer and “The Doors” because that film isn’t a part of their culture but in America, they do laugh. There are two or three moments overall that get different reactions but overall, the jokes speak to everyone. This is really funny because when I first started doing interviews in Berlin, which is where we premiered the film, I was talking to people from Dubai and Russia and Taiwan and Brazil and everyone would say “Oh, the film is so Brazilian” or “Oh, the film is so Russian”–that made me understand that dysfunctional relationships are international and that the film speaks to everyone.

Your next project is one that you have apparently been working on for quite a while, a film on the life of Elizabeth Bathoroy.
It is going to be shooting in the fall, so I am in the process of finishing up the script–it has been finished for a while but I am doing corrections because I rewrite so many times that some things get messed up that I have to fix. I have a cast–I have William Hurt, Rhada Mitchell, Vincent Gallo and myself. It is a nice cast and I have the set designer that worked on “The Illusionist,” the costume designer from “Perfume,” the cinematographer of “Joshua” and “Irreversible.”

What is it about this particular subject that interests you?

I don’t know. I stumbled onto it and it fascinated me. What fascinated me is the obsession with beauty and the fact that in the myth–there is also the real story behind the myth, which is that they had to get rid of her because she was becoming too powerful and so while she probably did a few bad things, they made them much bigger in order to get rid of her. I like the idea that someone is so non-accepting of the human condition, which is to grow old and to die, that she would go to the extent of madness and cruelty. It is also about how when you have the power to be cruel–when no one is telling you that it is wrong to kill–that human nature can go in certain places. I have always been fascinated by that–one of my favorite books is “The Demon” by Hubert Selby Jr. I have always wondered why human nature can be so horrible and monstrous and I think that it is not bad eggs but the situations–okay, maybe there are a few bad eggs. I’m fascinated by it because maybe I have had terrible thoughts in my head about killing or of anger, just like anyone else–someone does something to you and you have this vengeful and violent instinct of fighting back–and luckily society stops you or even your own intelligence and education stops you from doing it. That is in all of us and it fascinates me–it is what brings us to destroy ourselves and destroy the world. Human nature is so complex–because we have to reproduce, we created love and because we have to survive, we created hate.

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2245
originally posted: 08/28/07 11:47:40
last updated: 08/31/07 23:44:23
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