Comparisons between 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy’s feature film debut as writer-director, and her work on Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are inevitable. Each depicts a romance between an American man and a French woman that is rooted in talk—about love, politics, philosophy, romance… anything, really. Like the Linklater movies, especially Before Sunset (for which Delpy earned an Oscar nomination as a co-writer), Delpy’s film grapples with the difficulty of connecting with someone on a deeper level.
Though these similarities are undeniable, 2 Days in Paris—which Delpy also produced, scored and edited—has a goofy edginess all its own. The film tells the story of two mismatched, neurotic lovers, a photographer (Delpy) and an interior designer (Adam Goldberg) who conclude their European vacation with a stop in the City of Light to visit her off-the-wall parents. The film is lighter than air, but it doesn’t rely on the well-worn tropes of romantic comedy. Instead, it distinguishes itself by rooting its characters in the real world, forcing them to grapple with racist cab drivers, oral sex and Delpy’s father, whom she describes as a “perverted Santa Claus.”
Shortly before the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Delpy spoke with MM about learning from Richard Linklater, her strategy for getting financing and her ambivalence about love.
Daniel Nemet-Nejat (MM): The press notes describe your film as the opposite of Before Sunset. What does that mean?
Julie Delpy (JD): I had to trick people into giving me money, because no one has given me money for anything I’ve ever written before. So I made it sound like, “American guy, French girl in Paris” so people felt comfortable. That got me money from the financiers, but then I wrote something very different. I won’t say it’s the opposite, just different.
MM: Were you really able to get financing on a half-completed script?
JD: I got the financing in Berlin last year. It was basically a pitch and some written scenes. I was so tired of writing full screenplays and then not getting the money to make the movie that I was like, ‘This time I’m going to do it the other way around.’ It was much easier to write then; once you know you have the money, it’s exciting. You know it’s not going to be just a screenplay.
MM: What made you decide to cast both of your parents in the film?
JD: They’re both wonderful actors and I always promised myself that if I ever directed a film, which I have been planning on for a while, I would cast them. When I wrote Before Sunset, I wrote them a part in the end at the courtyard. When I write something in French, I kind of think of them when I think of people in their sixties.
MM: Did it create an added comfort level on set?
JD: Sometimes, but sometimes not. I think my dad’s great in the film, but he was resistant. (laughs) I would make him do takes over and over and he was like, “But that one was good. I’m your father, I know what’s good or bad.” No, dad. I’m the director, so you do as I say. It was fun—and tough.
MM: Was it difficult to direct yourself?
JD: When I worked on other movies and felt like I’d done a good moment in a scene, usually the director agreed. Not always, depending on how good the director was, but I’ve rarely been really wrong. Actors can sense when they’re good or bad in a scene. Then it’s a question of making sure you have it [on tape]. You have to add 20 minutes or half an hour a day for watching playback when you are acting.
MM: One striking choice you made was to run voiceover during the climactic argument between the two main characters. What was the reason for that?
JD: First of all, I started with the voiceover so I needed to end with the voiceover. Also, I think there’s something about big breakup scenes—everyone has heard them and it’s always the same issues that come up. For me, it was essential not to fall into that. I’d rather have something go at length about the relationship—kind of like looking at it from afar, almost like she’s outside of herself. She’s a photographer, she’s observing the situation more than being in it. I just didn’t want to hear another breakup scene.
MM: But is it a breakup scene? It’s ambiguous.
JD: I want to leave it open. When people love each other, there are a lot of conflicts and a lot of anger and a lot of things that are unexpressed. Sometimes it comes to a point where you feel that you can’t be with this person anymore. But then if you think about it carefully, after a moment of silence you realize that you still love that person.
I don’t think their relationship should last, personally, because they’re very dysfunctional. But in a way, I’m not judging them. They have this dynamic—fighting and breaking up and getting back together. Even at the end of the film, they’re dancing in the middle of a lot of people on Music Day in Paris, which is the longest day of the year. So it’s very nice—and they’re enjoying the moment. It’s the only time in the film that there really is a “moment.”
MM: In your work—both as an actor and writer-director—you gravitate toward projects that express an ambivalence about relationships.
JD: I’ve written many things that have nothing to do with that subject matter, but it’s true that the idea of whether it’s possible to be in a relationship is a question I ask myself all the time. I share my life with someone right now, [but] one of my favorite things is to be by myself, because I get to do my work and the things I like the best—writing and music and painting and doing all my little shit. But then it’s important to love someone and to be loved. Even though it’s not a major issue like life or death, it’s an issue that everyone is dealing with. I know people who are writing theses on the future of the world, but they still have to deal with their love lives.
MM: 2 Days in Paris is a romantic comedy, but the characters are constantly referring to war, cultural differences and other hot-button issues. Were you consciously trying to put them in a larger context?
JD: When you see romantic comedies, people don’t often talk about matters of what’s going on in the world, and I don’t think that’s realistic. Actually, how I got the movie financed was with that line: “After all, a blow job is a big deal. It is a blow job that brought down America’s last chance at a healthy democracy.” It’s a mix between a dirty joke and a true political fact.
MM: One of the most memorable scenes is your character’s argument with the racist cab driver.
JD: I had to fight for those scenes, because when people think ‘romantic comedy,’ they think ‘all romantic comedy.’ You don’t touch on subject matters like racism. To me that’s important because it’s funny, but it’s a little edgier than the usual romantic comedy. When I was editing the film or I showed people a cut, they were like, “Oh my God, it’s a very scary scene.” Especially the French—they were very nervous about that scene.
MM: It also highlights the differences between the two main characters.
JD: What I really love in the film is that he’s not perfect—he’s always complaining—but she’s far from perfect. I mean, she has a fucking temper. To me, it makes her likable when she stands up to that taxi driver. I’ve had experiences with taxi drivers like that when they say horrible, racist things and the reality of me, Julie Delpy, is that I don’t say anything. I’ve always dreamt of doing what my character does. There’s a true issue with racism in France and very few people talk about it—especially in a romantic comedy!
MM: Did your experience working with Richard Linklater affect your approach as a director?
JD: Originally, I wanted to make the film a bit more improvised, but then I realized as I was writing and preparing the film that I didn’t want that. I did it before on a little experimental film I made called Looking for Jimmy. It’s good and I like it and it’s interesting and it’s fun, but I just realized I wanted something written. I think that’s what I took from Richard—that it’s good to write it like it’s improvised… It has to feel effortless.
MM: You wore so many hats on this film. Were you happy to have a hand in every aspect?
JD: For me, it wasn’t hard to edit, compose the music, direct, act or deal with some producing part of the film. What was really hard was to be the assistant editor, dealing with the nightmare of redoing the voiceover and going to get a dub tape just because I couldn’t find an assistant who would work for me. That kind of thing sucks on a small-budget movie.
MM: You’ve said that this movie taught you more about yourself than anything you’ve ever done before. How so?
JD: It’s kind of a joke. I did it so fast—writing it then going straight into pre-production then shooting, editing straight away and then finishing the film.
Looking at the film, there is a side of me that wishes I was this lighthearted person who is flirtatious with everyone. I have this fantasy of being this woman that I am not. (laughs) I constantly talk about men and castration and the men that you see naked in the film have helium balloons tied to their penises. I’m trying to analyze what it means to my idea of men. Maybe I feel sorry for men because some of them feel a little bit castrated; there must be some kind of hidden meaning about men with helium balloons around their penises. Maybe they need that to keep it up or something, I don’t know. (laughs)
MM: You and Adam have a very believable chemistry in the film. Was that difficult to create, considering he didn’t show up on set until the day before?
JD: I’ve known Adam for 15 years, so I knew he was going to be on this other film that he was shooting. But then he got stuck and we almost had to recast.
I was really worried that he was trying to find a way to get out of this, but he did a great job. He has such a great comic ability. The more depressed he looked, the funnier he looked. He’s the kind of actor who’s good on the first take, which is so nice when you don’t have money—and I knew that. For everyone around him, I cast people who didn’t necessarily have this natural comedic timing, because if everyone has comedic timing, it can be like a sitcom.
MM: A lot of reviews have compared the film to some of Woody Allen’s movies.
JD: That’s very nice, because I love Woody Allen. I never thought about that when I was making the film. I didn’t think about anything when I was making the film—I was just making it. (laughs) For preparation I just didn’t want to watch comedy. I watched Jaws like six times. Then, the more I watched it, the more I was like, ‘In a way Jaws is like my film.’ I mean, Jaws is much better than my film. What I’m saying is that it’s the same kind of thinking behind it, but French men happen to be the shark. If you look at the way I build the film, it’s a little bit the same kind of construction. I know it sounds crazy…. I’m pretty crazy.
2 Days in Paris was released theatrically by Samuel Goldwyn Films in August 2007. It will be released on DVD by 20th Century Fox on February 5, 2008.