Standing Her Ground
For Julie Delpy, “feminism” is so much more than a convenient buzzword.
Last night, the photographer snapping photos said, ‘I want to take pictures of the director with the actress.’” In most circumstances, there would be nothing pause-worthy about that statement. But here I am, sitting in a Toronto hotel suite with Julie Delpy, one of indie cinema’s most beloved multi-hyphenates, and I’m totally riled up by her account of gender stereotyping in my own backyard. “The photographer was referring to Dany [Boon] and me,” says the 46-year-old writer-director-actress, recalling the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere of her latest French satire, Lolo (out now). “He thought I was the actress—obviously. Dany turned to me with a big grin and was like, ‘Did you hear that?’”
I have only just taken a seat and reached for my notes, yet the Academy Award nominee is already proving to be a first-rate conversationalist, reminding me of so many of her iconic outspoken onscreen characters, such as Marion in 2 Days in Paris/2 Days in New York and Céline in the Before trilogy. Since making a strong early-career impression in the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Krzysztof Kieslowski, Delpy has brought her singular vision and endearing neuroses to writing and directing on both sides of the Atlantic. At last fall’s TIFF, too much ink was spilled (mostly in the uptight English-language press) about a hilarious scene in Lolo where Delpy and her fortysomething BFF candidly dish about sex. I bring this up because it appears to be symptomatic of a culture that refuses to grant sexual agency to women over a certain age.
“Isn’t it funny that people still get upset about women talking frankly about sex?” she says rhetorically, echoing my sentiment while trying to wrap her head around its shocking tenacity. “They write it off as ‘Oh, she hates men.’ C’mon, guys, I’m making fun of things! We have been treated like dogs for centuries.... Can’t I have a little fun about your penis for five minutes without making you feel like you’ve been castrated?”
Besides flipping the script on the convention of men treating women as sexual commodities, Delpy’s films also find her waging a holy war against our culture’s “dating rules” nonsense, which too many lovelorn loners still gobble up. “I think what attracted Richard [Linklater] to cast me in Before Sunrise was that he understood that my idea of romance has nothing to do with codes like ‘He didn’t call me back after the first date!’ or ‘He didn’t propose!’ All that baloney is very American, I must say. It makes it so tough on both men and women.”
Delpy points to the romantic lead she dreamed up for Lolo— an awkward but kind-hearted computer whiz played by Boon—as evidence that pure kindness is, in her book, a man’s most attractive quality. “I’ve never fallen in love based on someone’s social status,” she argues. “Being a good person is one of a human being’s greatest qualities. And to me, that’s important for romance.”
While Delpy and I reflect on the aftermath of the hard-fought sexual revolution of her parents’ generation, she talks of an oft-overlooked outcome. “I remember how happy my dad was at the time. He said: ‘I can be who I want to be! I don’t have to be tough. I don’t want to go to war. I can cry—louder than everyone—when I see a Douglas Sirk movie,’” she recalls with affection. “Some men get it, obviously, and thank God.” h
Delpy with Dany Boon in her latest film, Lolo