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There has been a lot of French to my moviegoing recently. Two of the past three movies that I've seen were entirely in French; last week's featured a French star and traveled to Paris. Yesterday, I saw a fourth, a good deal of it in English but, again, set in Paris. I'm speaking of Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris.
Now that Woody Allen has taken to remaking his own pictures (Scoop<Manhattan Murder Mystery; Match Point<Crimes and Misdemeanors), he probably won't mind that Ms Delpy has remade Annie Hall, the timeless romance about people who are fundamentally too different to stay together without serious sacrifice. Ms Delpy catches a similar couple somewhat further down the line, lovers who have broken up with other people too many times not to think twice about breaking up again. Lest my account sound too triste, however, it must be noted that there are very few unfunny moments in 2 Days in Paris.
My favorite joke involves a party of overweight, conservative Americans waiting on line for a taxi at the railway station, standing ahead of Marion (Ms Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg). Hearing that Jack is an American, they ask him for directions to the Louvre. Is it far? Not at all, he says - in fact, it's too close for a taxi ride. Then he makes up bogus directions. Not suspecting how complete Jack's disagreement is, the leader says, "We Americans must stick together! The French are so rude." She thanks him effusively and leads her group of Codebreakers off to perdition in the banlieue. Marion can't believe how mean Jack is, but she's tickled, too. The next day, Adam is sulking by himself, having fought with Marion, when he turns a corner, and there, facing him, is the American crowd (whom you've probably forgotten all about), looking extremely sour. He turns and flees.
Marion and Jack have been together for about two years. Marion is a photographer who resides principally in New York, where Jack is an interior designer. They've just vacationed in Venice, a trip that Marion would have found more romantic if Jack hadn't taken so many pictures. (She, the pro, knowing how distancing the photographer's stance is, took none.) En route back to New York, they stop for two days so that Marion can spend some time with her family (she has a flat above her parents - played by Ms Delpy's) and friends.
And what a lot of friends she has, especially friends of the male, ex-boyfriend persuasion. Something of a hypochondriac, and innocent of more than a few words of French, Jack soon feels under attack, not to mention hopelessly outclassed. He comes close to being jealous of France itself. For in every encounter with third persons he discovers a new facet of Marion's personality. Her friendliness seems different when she speaks her native language, and her assurances that everything is okay are maddeningly ineffective.
Ms Delpy deploys an interesting strategy for opening up her characters. The visual narrative's point of view is Jack's. Everything is set up to get Jack's eyes rolling; French ways and their meaning are weird. Or maybe it's Jack who's weird; he's certainly neurotic. Either way, Jack is the center of dramatic attention, and it is no small compliment to Mr Goldberg to say that he holds onto the camera's gaze in Ms Delpy's company as firmly as Woody Allen did in Diane Keaton's. But Ms Delpy clearly wants something richer. Her Marion is not the same kind of unattainable ideal that Ms Keaton's characters were. The romance in this film is provided by Marion's wistful voice-overs, two of which begin and end the picture. Marion has problems, too. (Too often, in order to smooth over bumps in her relationships, she tells lies.) We see Jack and Marion, in short, in different modes. That distinction befits a movie that shows how different, up close and intimate, two cultures can be. Happily, it manages to laugh. (August 2007)
Copyright (c) 2007 Pourover Press