Don't mess with Delpy

The French actress is brave and brilliant - if only her latest film lived up to her talents

 

The tardy sequel, so late in arriving that it has less in common with the Supermans and Lethal Weapons of this world than with the 7 Up series (which was back on our television screens this week), has as its current public ambassador Julie Delpy. She is the star and co-writer of the most delicious example of this species of storytelling—Richard Linklater’s brace of Before films (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset; a third is currently in the works). Or at least that’s the case now that Truffaut isn’t around to make any more Antoine Doinel films.

But Delpy has also made her own independent contribution to this genre, which we will label temporarily “sequels-to-movies-that-you-never-knew-needed-sequels-in-the-first-place.” In 2007, she wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in and scored the abrasive romantic comedy 2 Days in Paris. Such extensive creative input must mean that the film represents her authentic voice. (It also means that the end credits were significantly shorter than in other movies.) And what a voice! She had already provided some vital prickliness and scepticism amongst the lovely gap-year wish-fulfilment of Before Sunrise, but nothing to prepare audiences for the emotionally and sexually forceful, taxi-driver-berating, self-righteous livewire and provocateur that she played in her own film.

2 Days in Paris focused on Marion (Delpy), who takes her uptight New Yorker boyfriend Jack (the glorious Adam Goldberg) to meet her parents. The culture-clash theme was amplified, with wit and originality, in Jack’s paranoia about Marion’s sexual history. Everywhere he turns in Paris, he finds apparent traces of her lively past. What is meant to be a relaxing break becomes a battlefield in which the white, male, American ego and the French self-image suffer the severest injuries.

The prickly punchline of the movie is that it isn’t paranoia at all: his fears are entirely justified. (“He knew Paris was for lovers,” runs the poster’s on-the-money tagline. “He just didn’t think they were all hers.”) It wasn’t exactly that the serious material was made palatable by the humour—the comedy itself was barbed, so that the darkness and lightness in the script often became inseparable. And Delpy demonstrated an expert command of her material, using the romcom format to make some important points about the cultural and emotional barriers that have to be vaulted in a relationship. “What really inspired me was Jaws,” Delpy said. “But instead of the shark, the threat to Jack comes from all these virile French guys. He’s under attack.”

Five years on, Delpy returns as Marion in 2 Days in New York (which she again wrote, directed, produced… well, you get the gist). Marion has now separated from Jack, though they have a young son who lives with her in the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her new partner, Mingus (Chris Rock). This time the situation is reversed, with Marion’s family descending on her—her insatiable, rambunctious father (played by the actor’s real-life parent Albert Delpy), her antagonistic sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Rose’s feckless boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon). (Landeau and Nahon, who both appeared in the first film, also helped Delpy with the new movie’s story.)

Anyone who admired 2 Days in Paris will probably be asking the same question: “What, no Jack?” Adam Goldberg’s neurotic energy was so central to the earlier film, and he was such a perfect match for Delpy, that there can’t help but be a slight sag when we realise his name is absent from the cast list. “I knew I couldn’t do a sequel with the same guy,” Delpy explains in the press notes, “because that would be too much like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Out of respect for Richard [Linklater] and Ethan [Hawke, her co-star], I knew I couldn’t do that.”

It should be said that Rock is quite a revelation as the tender but increasingly harried Mingus, who has to contend with Marion’s mounting volatility, Rose’s advances and Manu’s casual racism (he is perturbed to discover that Mingus, as an African-American, doesn’t like Salt’N’Pepa or dope). Underplaying throughout, Rock displays an appealing dryness that hasn’t always come through in his own star vehicles.

The problem is the movie itself. Much of the familiar furniture is in place: the difficult family, the probing camerawork, the return of key cast members (including Daniel Brühl, who reprises his role as a fairy). But the film has no centre. New York doesn’t figure as a character or a force, malevolent or otherwise, as Paris did previously. Without the sexual paranoia that held together the original, the sequel is a loosely connected series of skits, observations and arguments in search of a script editor. There are several strong scenes, not least Marion’s encounter with a cantankerous neighbour, but none of the tantalising blend of weight and dottiness that distinguished its predecessor.

Nonetheless, I still think there’s something to celebrate. Or rather, someone. Delpy has long been unafraid to speak out on the subject of the movie industry’s sexism, and it’s refreshing to find that she is prepared to show herself in an unflattering or aggressive role on screen. “I hate being a male fantasy,” she told me when I interviewed her in 2007. “So many times I’ve been in a room pitching some movie to the financiers, and they’re blatantly just staring at my legs…The response I got whenever I pitched something was, ‘Why don’t you write something sweet?’” Nor was that restricted to stereotypical cigar-chomping Hollywood suits. In the early 1990s, she auditioned for the dual lead roles in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique:

“[Kieślowski] asked me to do a sexy gesture. That really bothered me. So I did this [sticks tongue out and pulls on earlobes]. I knew by the look on his face that I hadn’t got the part. But I was really mad with him. All that younger-woman bullshit you get. That fucking pervert. That ... man!

She did end up working with Kieślowski several years later on Three Colours White, and grew to love and admire him, but the point is well made: no one messes with Delpy, regardless of whether they live for art or opening-weekend grosses. At least Marion is allowed to be a fallible, messy and ribald human being without either of the films passing judgement on her. Let’s prize Delpy for that, and hope that the next film she makes marshals more successfully her rampant intelligence.

2 Days in New York opens on Friday.

Julie Delpy

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

ED THOMPSON / LUZ / EYEVINE
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"We’ve got things in common": why one of the EDL's original members quit

An early supporter of the group, painter-decorator Darren Carroll has had death threats since he left. But why did he change his mind about the English Defence League?

Darren Carroll is a slight man with bright blue eyes and an urgent need for redemption. A painter-decorator in his fifties, he has lived in Luton his whole life. He was one of the original members of the English Defence League (EDL), the far-right street movement founded by Carroll’s nephew Tommy Robinson.

Recently, things haven’t been easy. Four months before our meeting at a café near Luton Airport Parkway Station, Carroll had a minor stroke that affected his speech and vision. It was the delayed fallout from an attack in a pub across the road, his local. A stranger, who seemed to know a lot about him, started a conversation. “He showed me his arm. It was tattooed. There was a little bit of white skin left on the whole sleeve,” says Carroll. “He said, ‘Look at that.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘White is right.’ I said, ‘Nah, mate, I know exactly where you’re coming from. There’s nothing wrong with being white but there’s nothing right with it.’”

The man pretended to leave the pub, then walked back in and hit Carroll hard on the back of the head with his forearm. Afterwards, Carroll suffered persistent headaches. It caused a blood clot that set off the stroke. When we met, he had mostly recovered but was still unable to work.

It was not the first attack. Carroll has also had his front door kicked in. He and his children have received death threats. “This is since speaking up,” he says. “Not leaving – that’s different.”

Carroll looks uncomfortable when we discuss the early days of the EDL. “It was an organic thing,” he says. “Lots of people were involved at the very beginning for different reasons. Personally, I was not happy with the way the town was being run on a political level. Looking back, I was disenfranchised from mainstream politics.”

Luton has the dubious distinction of being a centre of both far-right and Islamist extremism. The EDL began here in 2009, in response to a demonstration organised by Anjem Choudary’s now banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, which in turn was a reaction against an army regiment marching in Luton.

A counterprotest led to arrests and the EDL was born, with sometimes violent neo-fascist street protests spreading across the country. Robinson insisted from the outset that the EDL was not racist, but only “against the rise of radical Islam”. Carroll says it was local difficulties, rather than national issues such as immigration, that unsettled and motivated him – and he didn’t articulate the core problem as racism against white people, not even to himself. The EDL has never had a formal membership, but the think tank Demos estimated that there were between 25,000 and 35,000 active members in 2011, a loose coalition of football hooligans and far-right activists. Today, the numbers are much reduced.

Carroll’s family was closely involved and it was a while before he realised that the EDL was an extremist, racist group. He describes being at a demo in Birmingham soon after the first protest. “I looked at the other lads there and I didn’t like them. They didn’t smell right for me, as far as integrity goes. I thought, ‘I don’t want this.’” Carroll’s parents are Irish and he considers himself the child of immigrants.

It took several months for him to extricate himself from the group and stop attending demonstrations. “It’s a relationship breaker, so you’ve got to accept that things are broken for ever.” On building sites, he was known as the EDL guy. Work dried up.

Amid attempts to coerce him back into the movement, and concerned about damaging his family relationships, Carroll stayed silent for another year and a half, only starting to speak up a few years after he left the EDL. This triggered a new wave of threats. He reeled off a list of incidents: slashed tyres, smashed windows. “Last week, I got one on Facebook [saying] that I’m a ginger Muslim and I’m gonna get shot. That was someone I know privately, which I don’t take as a threat. Their particular problem seems to be that I’m on record saying I’d have a cup of tea in a mosque and sit down and talk to people.”

Carroll did so after seeing a Facebook post by a local activist, Dawood Masood. Masood had shared a video of an imam in Leicester speaking about terrorist violence, with a message saying that any EDL members were welcome to get in touch. Carroll met him and others from the Muslim community and they discussed ways to make Luton better. He told them that he wasn’t interested in religion, but invited them to what he considers his church: Luton Town FC.

“I had the idea it’s about setting precedents, because you never know who or what that affects,” he says. “I just thought, if I’m seen going to the football with them, it’s going to break a big piece of ice.”

As the EDL evolved largely from a football subculture, this was a bold step. They went to the match. “He’s Luton born and bred and he certainly don’t need his hand held. But I made him as comfortable as possible. Luton scored and he’s jumping up and down, loving it. At that point, I thought: ‘This is really Luton harmony. He’s cheering for the same thing and I’m cheering for the same thing. We’re both happy together at this moment in time. We’ve got things in common.’”

They have been to many matches since, Masood bringing his kids, Carroll his grandkids. Carroll has had a few threatening calls but remains undeterred. “The working-class Muslim lads are working-class Muslim lads. They’ve got all the same problems and social issues as us white, working-class people. It’s not just me or us. It’s everyone.” 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage