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Bonjour névrose

Paris isn't necessarily for lovers
Cinema Review

Assumed from: Steffen Silvis
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
September 24th, 2008 issue

After Jack purposefully gives a fellow American the wrong directions to the Louvre, the misguided traveler chirpily confides to him, “I think the French are so rude.” “I know,” Jack replies. “It’s a cliché, but it’s true.” But Jack and the bumbling tourist are also clichés. He’s a cool New Yorker practically vibrating with neuroses inside his Prada jacket, while the confused Louvre-hunter is a corn-fed dullard released from the Great Plains, leading a herd of Bush-worshipping Dan Brown readers on a Da Vinci Code tour. And it’s true, the French are rude, but only when they’re off-duty from sexual and gastronomical pursuits.
Director-actor Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris is a delightful if occasionally over-the-top romantic comedy that never quite finds a tone, primarily because the two principal characters, Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg), are surrounded by such wild, two-dimensional caricatures. In other words, the film feels uneven, as if unsure if it wants to be a Woody Allen film or a scathing satire.
After a whirlwind romantic getaway in Venice (which featured more gastroenteritis than love-making), Marion and Jack arrive for two days in Marion’s native Paris, before the pair return to their home in Manhattan. Jack doesn’t really know Paris that well, nor has he met Marion’s family, and so the pause between Italy and America seems an inspired idea. It will turn out to be anything but.
The two are obviously well-suited. Though suffering from a genetic eye disorder, Marion is a well-known photographer, while Jack is an interior designer in some demand. Both have fully established themselves in New York, and their relationship has lasted quite long by modern standards, to the point where both have taken the other for permanent. Once housed in Marion’s old study at her parents’ house, things quickly unravel. First, Marion’s parents are as overwhelming as they are overbearing. They are a walking vaudeville of Gallicism — the mother hysterical and histrionic, the father lascivious and a gourmet of animal parts usually tossed or handed to the dog.
French propriety is also vastly different than the puritanical American variety. Marion’s mother sees nothing wrong in popping into her daughter’s bedroom for a chat while Marion and Jack are mid-coitus, something that rather curbs Jack’s enthusiasm. Yet, the real fracture lines appear once Marion and Jack have hit the streets of Paris, where Marion cannot help but meet a multitude of past amours, all of whom seem eager to start up again from where they left off. Jack’s neuroses are soon in full bloom.
One of the legion of beaux, Manu (the debonair Alexandre Nahon), a successful French writer, particularly makes Jack anxious. Marion dismisses their past relationship, reasoning that it was hardly love, only the odd fellating, which is hardly worth a second thought. Jack doesn’t agree: “A blow job is actually a big political event in the grand scheme of things. After all, it was a blow job that destroyed any chance at a healthy democracy.”
From there, what had seemed like the perfect couple (at least a perfect mesh of tics) begins to disintegrate. “This isn’t Paris, this is hell!” Jack yells at one point along the Left Bank, forcing both to ponder the possibility of splitting.
2 Days in Paris bears more than a passing resemblance to two of Richard Linklater’s films, 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset, both of which starred Delpy, with the latter co-written by Linklater, Delpy and her co-star Ethan Hawke. Delpy’s 2 Days has the same tight, improvisational feel of Before Sunset, and, as with Hawke, Delpy plays brilliantly off of Goldberg, who actually happened to be Delpy’s lover at the time of filming.
The latter bit of gossip does play an important part in 2 Days’ makeup. Marion’s monstrous parents are played by Delpy’s real mother and father, actors Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy, while various supporting actors have worked with Delpy before. So her film becomes a wonderfully weird autobiographical send-up on some levels, laden with in-jokes that will only be appreciated by Delpy’s circle, if not solely her. And this really is Delpy’s film: She directs and stars in a film that she not only wrote, but composed the music for (there’s a wonderful bit of Delpy’s singing during the credits, in a song she performed with the band Nouvelle Vague).
That doesn’t mean that the film is so solipsistic as to exclude uninitiated audiences. There is much to enjoy in 2 Days in Paris, from Delpy’s purblind beauty and righteous anger over taxi drivers’ racist small talk, to Goldberg’s street-smart Jewish wit and Elliot Gouldian despair (Goldberg would be ideal for any remake of Little Murders).
Still, the cartoonish quality of those orbiting the pair’s problems lessens both the film’s impact and its sophistication — another stereotypic French quality Delpy could have exploited more.

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