Call to di­rect ac­tion

Julie Delpy has fought for her film­mak­ing de­but, writes Stephen Ap­ple­baum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

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

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