Call to direct action
Julie Delpy has fought for her filmmaking debut, writes Stephen Applebaum
JULIE Delpy could have difficulty getting picked up by a Parisian taxi following the release of her directorial debut, 2 Days in Paris . Watching this witty, ribald romantic comedy, you would think the capital’s cabbies were all racists and misogynists. Surely they cannot all be bad, I say when we meet in London.
‘‘ In Paris you can have great experiences with taxi drivers or you can have a series of arseholes,’’ she says with a laugh. ‘‘ I came into Paris for one week and I had four who were basically psychopaths. I was, like, ‘ Shit!?’ ’’
The sight of Delpy’s character, Marion, berating a bigoted driver horrified the film’s French distributor, who thought, bizarrely, people would lose sympathy for her. Delpy was stunned. ‘‘ If you’re a racist obviously you’re not going to like her, but it’s not like I’m going to root for racist taxi drivers. Why would I do that? I hate racism.’’ She refused to remove the scene.
When it comes to her work, compromise is not in Delpy’s nature. It took her 20 years to get enough money to make her first feature, partly, she believes, because she doesn’t write scripts that fit neatly into genres. That scares people, the feisty Gallic blonde claims. ‘‘ They’re like a deer in the headlights. They’re terrified of giving money to something original.’’
Delpy wrote, co- produced, directed, edited, scored and starred in 2 Days in Paris ( for all I know, she may even have done the catering) but argues that being a woman can also put an aspiring filmmaker at a disadvantage in the male- dominated movie business. Sometimes she sent her scripts out under men’s names, receiving positive reactions from potential backers.
‘‘ When I came into the room for a meeting, they just didn’t want to finance my film any more,’’ she says. ‘‘ We’ve seen women progress in politics but in the film industry there’s a stigma. There’s no equality. It’s not there yet.’’
Even the subjects women can tackle are limited, she claims. ‘‘ We still have to fight that stereotype about us not being able to talk about anything but love or romance, and I think that’s bullshit,’’ she says.
Delpy says she has written dramas, broad comedies and thrillers that are all gathering dust. She surprises me by recounting a conversation she had with Oscar winner Paul Haggis ( Crash ) about a World War II film she had written, told from the side of the Japanese. Then he pitched the movie to Clint Eastwood two weeks later, she exclaims. I’m speechless. Is she really saying she unwittingly gave Haggis the idea for Letters from Iwo Jima ? ‘‘ It happens,’’ she replies, philosophically. ‘‘ I’m never mad at people because I think I should have just shut my mouth.’’
Her point is that women are not trusted to make war movies. ‘‘ But I identify with no problem to a Japanese soldier in World War II, so why not? We’re all human beings and we all have the same core. Most men directors who do war movies haven’t been in a war. Why would they be better?’’
2 Days in Paris sounds like a compromise. A romantic comedy about a French woman, Marion ( Delpy), and her American lover, Jack ( Adam Goldberg), spending time together in the City of Love, its outline reads like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset . Delpy contributed to that film’s Oscar- nominated screenplay and the echoes are deliberate. She tricked financiers by pitching a script that sounded like Before Sunset , then did her own thing.
2 Days in Paris has the verbosity of Linklater’s Parisian talk- fest but Delpy’s film is edgier, ruder, funnier. It is more openly political, too. At one point Marion’s contention that a blow job is something trivial segues into a discussion about the destructive connections between politics and sexual morality in the US.
‘‘ For me, it was essential to fight to keep that political side to the film,’’ Delpy says. ‘‘ Politics has always been part of my life and I always like to give a little political subtext to things when I write. Everyone should be involved politically.
‘‘ In my life, my friends when we talk, it’s always coming in. But if you see a romantic comedy it’s just a romantic comedy. You can’t put in other things and I didn’t feel that was true to what I see around me.’’
Delpy has dual voting rights: in the US ( she became a citizen in 2002), where she mostly lives, and France. She blames the relationship she had with the French film industry for her decision to move away. ‘‘ I saw too many young actresses that were dating men that were five times their age and that bothered me,’’ she explains.
But isn’t this true of the business everywhere, I ask. ‘‘ You don’t see a 14- year- old ( her age when she appeared in Jean- Luc Godard’s Detective ) dating a 60- year- old in America. In France that’s accepted. I’m not puritanical but I have certain morals. I would never use other things than my work and talent to make it.’’
Her determination is paying off. 2 Days in Paris was a hit with the critics and the public when it premiered at the Berlin festival in February. In fact, so warm was its reception that the French distributor forgot about requesting cuts, Delpy says with a laugh.
‘‘ I really, really hope this film will make people more comfortable that I won’t have a nervous breakdown halfway through filming, and I’m not this crazy actress who asks for 200 pounds ( 90kg) of strawberries on the third day of shooting because she wants to put strawberries in the scene, or I’m painting the entire grass blue because I’ve decided to paint it blue. Crazy stuff like that.’’
Thanks to 2 Days in Paris , Delpy at last looks set to make The Countess , a five- year- old labour of love about serial killing, blood- bathing 16th- century Hungarian aristocrat Elizabeth Bathory. Typically, she has fought for her vision, refusing to give in to studios’ attempts to turn her script into a trashy B- horror movie just because it would sell better.
‘‘ I think that is bullshit,’’ she snaps. ‘‘ If you have a really good film it will sell more than a bad period drama or bad horror film.’’
So what can we expect from The Countess ? Everything Delpy loves, apparently: vanity, cruelty, power, twisted romantic love, the destruction of a woman in power. ‘‘ I think it’s going to be rich and crazy and interesting to watch,’’ she says with enthusiasm.
And Delpy will be playing Bathory, naturally. 2 Days in Paris opens in Australia on December 26.
Genre jumping: Writer, actor and director Julie Delpy as Marion and Adam Goldberg as Jack in 2 Days in Paris