Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Want to Spend "2 Days in Paris" with Julie Delpy?

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Want to Spend "2 Days in Paris" with Julie Delpy?

(from 7/25/07)

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Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in Paris” had great word-of-mouth at this spring’s Tribeca Film Festival, but I think they screened it on Mars because I could never get to the venue.  However, I was able to attend a terrific panel of female directors, at which Delpy talked off her long ordeal in getting to direct her first theatrical film (other than a $3,000 video experiment) after years of impressing us with her acting in European and American films.  As she pointed out, she didn’t only direct this film, but also wrote it, produced it, edited it, cast it, composed the music for it, and personally mailed prints to film festivals.  Having finally seen her movie, I can say her hard work paid off.  It is certainly a perfect fit with “Before Sunset” and “Before Sunrise,” the chatty, bittersweet comedies she wrote with director Richard Linklater and costar Ethan Hawke.  In her savvy, politically-charged comedy, a gorgeous, short-fused French photographer, Marion, brings her neurotic, jealous, hypochondriac American boyfriend Jack (played by Delpy’s former boyfriend, Adam Goldberg) to spend two crazed days in Paris at the tail end of an aggravating European vacation.  Jack must spend time with her oddball family (played by Delpy’s parents and sister); endure Marion’s numerous ex-boyfriends and strangers who flirt with her despite his presence; deal with her in fibs about men; and sit by during her angry confrontations with cab drivers and a pedophile ex-boyfriend.  Their relationship is put to the test.  I interviewed the delightful Delpy about her new movie earlier this week as part of a roundtable.  I indicate the questions that are mine.

Danny Peary: Starting with the end of your movie, the great last line of Marion’s narration about her, ultimately, loving Jack’s sneezes more than anyone else’s kisses, could be the theme of your movie.  Was that line in the script or did you add it later?
Julie Delpy: Yeah, it is a little bit of a theme… That line wasn’t in the script.  Originally, Marion’s voiceover was in French.  When I changed the voiceover to English, and was editing the ending, I realized I couldn’t end it so abruptly. It was too cynical, I needed something sweeter.  Then I added that line and it worked.  I added it in French as well, and it worked there, too.  
DP: There’s another striking line that Marion says to Jack that almost gets lost because he doesn’t really react to it.  But my guess is that it‘s an important, personal line to you.  To paraphrase, she says to him that she finds it “fascinating people can love each other, then feel nothing.”
JD: That was essential.  Other than when people I love suffer physically or die, that sudden disappearance of love has probably hurt me more than anything in my life.  When you’re with someone who loved you the day before and you look in their eyes and the love is gone, it’s total devastation.  You see it, you sense it, you realize it’s missing.  Unfortunately I think everyone has experienced that happening to them.
DP: But that theme is rarely in movies.  I can recall only of “Closer” and “Contempt,” where someone falls out of love instantly.
JD: Well, “Contempt” is one of my favorite films.  Also “Voyage to Italy” is one of my favorites.  That’s about a toubled couple, Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders, breaking up and getting back together at the very end.  My film is just a little comedy but that’s an amazing film; and I wouldn’t compare myself to Roberto Rossellini, who is one of the directors who had an impact on me.
Q: Were there other directors who influenced you as you directed your first feature?
JD: Among the directors I worked with, the ones I admire influenced me: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Agnieszkha Holland, Roger Avery, Richard Linklater, Jim Jarmusch… I observed them all as directors and saw what their methods were.  What I noticed were the things that made me most comfortable as an actress.  I learned from them that if you know what you want, if you’re kind but strong, actors will do their best.  I know how to get actors to do their best.  I will push them, but without making it difficult for them.  There wasn’t much difference working with Agnieszkha and the male directors because she is so strong; in fact I think male directors are more fragile when you don’t agree with them. 
DP: You haven’t mentioned Woody Allen as an influence, but while watching the film, I thought of “Annie Hall”—where, without cuts, Marion and Jack have long talks as they walk through the streets, where cities are characters, where there is a jealousy theme, where there is a memorable party, and where Annie takes Alvy home to meet her weird family--if Diane Keaton had directed and if the narration was by Annie rather than Alvy.
JD: Oh, really, from her point of view?  I’ve seen his films and I love “Annie Hall” especially. Naturally, I’m influenced by Woody Allen’s humor, because that’s the humor I love, but if I watched “Annie Hall” again while preparing my movie it would have been too much.  While I was preparing my movie I was careful not to watch any comedies.  I watched “Jaws,” Carl Dryer’s “Day of Wrath,” which has a jealousy theme, and “Raging Bull” because Marion is, I think, like Jake LaMotta in a way. I wanted to be inspired by films that had nothing to do with comedy because I was avoiding a romantic-comedy formula.  My film is a comedy but it’s not romantic because I didn’t follow a formula.  However, I do love Charlie Chaplin and when Jack is handcuffed because the woman he bumps into thinks he’s the thief is like a Chaplin movie.  She’s one of the racists in my movie.
Q: When you were writing your film and it included so many references to racism in France, were you thinking that you were being risky?
JD: I swear to God that France today is pretty bad.  It’s really awful over there.  Not everyone is racist, but many people are.  I knew it was a little risky pointing that out.  The French distributors were really upset with the scene where Marion starts arguing with the racist cab driver. They said, “That’s when you lose friendship for her.”  I said, “What do you mean?  I think it’s the opposite. That’s when I really like her.  She’s protecting Jack, she’s saying what she believes in, and she’s ready to punch that guy who is a racist, fascist, and misogynist--just a horrible person.”  To me she is most sympathetic then.  They went, “Yeah, but she’s so angry all the time.”  I said, “She has reason to be angry.” 
DP: Do you confront racist cab drivers like Marion does?
JD: No, that’s the difference between us. I’m a chicken.  I can argue a little bit but I would never snap.  I get too scared.  The reality is that I’m an actress and if I get punched in the face it will be hard to get jobs.  It’s hard enough with a French accent.
Q: Was it essential for you to include your political views?
Yes: If I would have taken them out, which I never would have done, it would have made the movie too sweet.  I like that it goes to the limit with her anger—that also happens when she sees her ex-boyfriend in the café and keeps calling him a pedophile. I wanted such scenes to give the film an edge it wouldn’t have otherwise. Talking about politics is part of my life, so that’s why it’s important that I have that in my film.  Too many films want to attract all demographics, so they don’t include any political views on anything.  I make it clear that I am going to include politics in the first scne when I have an American woman tourist wearing a Bush/Cheney T-shirt and Jack sends her group to the suburbs when they’re looking for the Louvre.  I’m liberal, I’m not racist, I hate anti-Semites, I have such an issue with the world we live in.  Maybe I’m screwing up the film’s demographics but you have to take stands in life.  It’s dangerous when an actor, writer, or director takes a political stand because the media will turn around what you say. They’ll always find a way to make fun of you.  At least when you express it in a movie, no one can twist your words.  And because there is humor, people don’t think you’re trying to hit them over the head or brainwash them.
Q: You have said that the French seem to have a harsher reaction to the film than Americans. Were they upset with the politics or the sex?
JD: There’s no sex in the film!  Everyone talks about sex, but that doesn’t count.  The French are very funny.  For example, they’ll say, “Why is the taxi driver who flirts with Marion a Moroccan?  Are you saying all Moroccans flirt with pretty women in their cabs?”  I say, “What are you talking about? Many men flirt with Marion in this film. He’s just one of them and he happens to be Moroccan.”  Suddenly, they are trying to come across as being politically correct, when they never are otherwise!  Or a journalist will write, “Why is that French taxi driver a racist?”  And I’ll ask the journalist, “Have you ever met a racist French taxi driver?”  “Well, yes…”  “So I have one in my film, what’s the problem?”  The film is a comedy so I’m going to include characters who are a bit crazy or over-the-top.  But they’re not out of a fantasy.  Unfortunately, I’ve really met taxi drivers like I have in my film.  My script was inspired by experiences in my life.  When I was writing it, I really did ride in a cab where the driver was listening to a show on battered wives, and he really did tell me the reason was “I had two wives and I beat them both.”  He wasn’t being mean, he just said it calmly.  I thought, “Wow!”  That was a pretty ballsy thing to say!
Q: Do you find yourself naturally oriented toward the humor in every day life?
JD: I’ve written darker stuff but comedy is more natural for me.  It’s okay for me to write drama but I’m not naturally drawn toward it.  Even when I’m going through something as painful as a breakup, the guy will say something serious to me, and something will click and  I’ll think to myself, “Oh, that’s a good line. If I put that line in a comedy it would be really funny.” Comedy is a different way to deal with life.  It’s a way of handling problems.  Horrible things can be happening but I see the humor in it.  I think the darkest things are usually the funniest.  I get that from my dad.  We have exactly the same personality, which is a scary thought but a reality.   He will deal with the most dramatic moments in his life with laughter.  
Q: Does being in movies allow you to remove yourself from reality and temper the dark moments?
JD: In “2 Days in Paris,” I talk about how you can be an observer rather than a participant.  That’s what Jack becomes in Paris when he takes photos with Marion’s camera instead of appreciating being with her or the places they go.  Marion’s a photographer, not an actress, and I say you don’t have to be a photographer to be an observer.  Unfortunately, when you are a screenwriter you tend to be an observer, more so than if you are an actor.  When you’re acting you’re always in the drama; when you write you are always observing.  That protects you in that it allows you to detach from what is most painful.  When it’s a movie or story it’s easier to handle than real life.
Q: At times, your film does seem like real life, like in the chaotic scene when Jack has lunch with Marion’s family. How much improvisation was there?
JD: Very little is left in the film.  I left in only little moments that were improvised. I talked to Adam, my parents, and my sister Alexia a lot about their characters, and they had no trouble staying with the script.
Q: Why did you choose to score the film yourself?
JD: I was watching the film with my boyfriend Marc Streitenfeld, who is a composer and just did the original music for “American Gangster.”  I asked him, “Do you think it is missing music?”  And he said it was.  So I went to my computer where I have an entire file of film music that I have written for fun. Little bits of music. So I inserted pieces of that old music where it matched.  Also I wrote an original piece of “jealousy” music for Jack.  It was a bit like the music in “Jaws” when the shark is coming, except that instead of the shark it was Frenchmen coming closer. It actually added comedy to the film.  For drama it’s supereasy to write music because the darker it is, the better it is. It’s harder to write music for comedy.  I did it all with my keyboard and computer and then I threw out what didn’t work and kept what did. The music went with the rhythm of the editing I was doing at the time.  It felt organic.
Q:You wore so many hats on this film, but it comes across as being very collaborative.
JD: There’s no such thing as a film where there wasn’t a collaborative effort.  I would have been on a stupid ego trip if my director of photography came up with a better shot than I did and I didn’t try it.  If anyone came up with a better idea, why wouldn’t I use it?  The crew was like that, too.  If the assistant director had a good idea for a shot, the DP would say, “Okay, let’s try it.”  There was no ego getting in the way. I once asked my friend Barbet Schroeder what makes a good director.  He said, “A good director is someone who can listen to everybody and take from them what really makes sense.”  If you’re a director, you can’t be closed off to the suggestions of your crew.  You have to know what you want but at the same time listen and take from everybody.  Making a movie requires teamwork.
Q: So are there more comedies in the works?
JD: The comedy I am going to do is called “World Wars and Other Fun Stuff to Watch on the Evening News.”  It’s a direct criticism of the last seven years of politics in America, and I’m having a hard time getting financing.  People are too scared to give me money because, unlike with “2 Days in Paris,” politics is the only thing it’s about.  I do have backing for my next film, which is totally different.  It’s a drama called “The Countess.” It’s about Erzebet Bathory and cruelty, vanity, and murder in the sixteenth century.  I’m directing and starring in it.  That will be my second feature, and I’m very nervous about it!


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