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The French/American Divide

2 Days in Paris2 Days in Paris 

Friday, August 10--------The division between real life and fantasy is not so clear in the newly released comedy 2 DAYS IN PARIS, written and directed by actress (now debut director) Julie Delpy. After years of working in both Hollywood and Paris, Delpy has been given the opportunity to direct her own project, one that draws on her real life confrontation with the French/American divide. That cultural, political and even psychological chasm has only grown in the last decade, as Americans and the French have vastly different ways of looking at life, war and politics. But with the newly elected Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy choosing to vacation in the United States this month, and with President Bush lessening his criticism of France as antagonistic to the United States, a new thaw is developing between the two nations. People, just as the countries they represent, also move between deep love and alienation, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

For the past 15 years, Julie Delpy (now aged 37) has been itching to direct. She has been writing novels and screenplays since she was a teenager. She self-financed an experimental short film, LOOKING FOR JIMMY, in 2002, but never was able to finish due to lack of financial backing. She's got a host of screenplays at various stages of development, but none of them ever got off the ground until....2 DAYS IN PARIS, which opens theatrically today in the United States (via indie distributor The Samuel Goldwyn Company). Like her best known films (the bookended BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, written and directed by director Richard Linklater), 2 DAYS IN PARIS is about a romance between a Frenchwoman and an American man. Delpy plays Marion, a French photographer living in New York, who decides to rekindle her relationship with her American boyfriend (played by Delpy's real-life ex Adam Goldberg). En route to Venice for a romantic liaison, they stop off for 48 hours in Paris, where all hell breaks loose.

In the SUNSET films, Delpy's romantic partner was actor Ethan Hawke (both contributed to the scripts, and received credit for BEFORE SUNSET). In this film, which is unapologetically autobiographical, Delpy cast her own parents, the actors Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, to play her on-screen family. Her partner in love and life is portrayed by her ex-boyfriend Adam Goldberg. She even cast her real life cat Max as the lead character's feline companion. The interiors of the film were shot in her parents' apartment and the studio that she keeps in the same building. The film works both as a romantic comedy of manners (with definite influences from Woody Allen) and a kind of political track about the cultural divide "across the pond" between America and France.

This divide reflects Delpy's own schizophrenic nature. She was raised in Paris, the daughter of two working actors. At the age of 17, she was nominated for a Cesar award, the French Oscar, as best newcomer. She worked with such titans of French cinema as Jean-Luc Godard and Bertrand Tavernier, before leaving Paris in 1989 to attending New York University Film School (her dream has been to direct from an early age). She moved to Los Angeles in 1993, and has worked mostly in the United States since. She has patented the role of the sexually free spirit with a passion for romance and sexual experimentation.

In TWO DAYS IN PARIS, she largely plays herself....a sensual, romantic, intellectual Parisian, who is on a collision course with her uptight American boyfriend. Goldberg plays her boyfriend as a classic American fish out of water: stranded in Paris without knowing the language, paranoid about hygienece, disgusted by French cuisine and threatened by his girilfriend's stream of ex-lovers, who she casually flirts with when she meets them on the street. And yet for all his paranoia and American provincialism, he is the kind of tourist who overidealizes Paris as a cultural mecca with a hip and loose vibe. As is often said, an American never feels more American than when he is in a foreign culture. The film definitely does take aim at American puritanism and egomaniacal politics, but Delpy does not spare her native France either. In one telling scene, her character is appalled by the casual racism espoused by a bigoted taxi driver. In another scene, she makes it clear that sexual liberation aside, an ex-boyfriend's decision to move to Asia in order to legally sleep with under-age girls is disgusting in the extreme. In her native country, Delpy is an object of both admiration and scorn. She is admired for her talent, both equally resented for having "sold out" by making her career in Hollywood.

However, despite this mixed reaction to her personally, the film, which opened in France in July, has been a modest box office success. She has been compared by several critics to Woody Allen at his best, which is quite a compliment for a directing novice. She is already working on her next project, a costume drama titled THE COUNTESS, about a murderous 17th-century Hungarian countess. The success of 2 DAYS IN PARIS, which opened to mostly positive reviews, should put this project on a much faster track. For Delpy, she has a lot of catching up to do as a director, and a drawer full of completed scripts that she has been hatching for almost two decades. 

Sandy Mandelberger, Coming Attractions

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Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

Previews of Upcoming Films, Videos and New Media Coming To Theaters, Festivals, DVD and the Internet.


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