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.

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Politicians and fashion? Why their approach can be telling

My week, from spying on the spies to Theresa May’s fashion charm offensive – and how Sadiq stole hearts.

About nine months ago I was asked if I wanted to spend a morning with Zac Goldsmith, as he appeared to be wakening from the slumber that had obviously taken hold of him when he decided to run for mayor of London. However, after about three minutes in his company (maybe less, actually) I realised that not even his campaign team – let alone voters in the Borough of Southwark – thought he had a hope in hell of winning.

There was only ever going to be one winner, and the enthusiasm with which Sadiq Khan has been greeted by London has been heartwarming. He won the politician award at GQ’s Men of the Year Awards a few weeks ago, and I’d never heard such a roar as he leapt up on stage to collect it. Well, I’ve heard such roars for the likes of Michael Caine, Elton John and Amy Schumer, but rarely for a politician. In fact, the last time there was such fulsome applause for a politician at the GQ awards was when we gave one to a pre-Sextator David Blunkett. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised: the last time Noel Gallagher graced us with his presence, he asked: “Is this what a Conservative party conference looks like?”

 

On the dole

The recent past is being hauled over so repeatedly that soon there are going to be ­retrospectives of events that happened only last week. Or next week. On paper, the new exhibition at the V&A in London, entitled “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970”, seemed slightly behind the curve, but the reality is very different – as it’s probably the best exhibition you’ll see in London this year.

This is all down to the curation, which was handled by Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes, the wizards behind “David Bowie Is”, the most successful show in the V&A’s history. It’s a terrific exhibition, although being reminded of the cultural and political insurrection of the Sixties also reminds you of the period’s seemingly innate optimism as a new London was mushrooming into life. Winston Churchill was dead, abortion was about to be made legal and the rise in happiness seemed exponential. Britain was experiencing almost full employment (though the government wobbled slightly in the spring of 1966 when it was announced that the jobless total had gone up to half a million). It never occurred to anyone that there might not be a job
waiting for them when they left school or their red-brick university.

 

Priced out

There certainly won’t be a house waiting for them, not if they intend to live in London. The marketing bods behind the new development at Battersea Power Station came in to make a presentation at Vogue House a few weeks ago, showing us lots of slides and videos about their fabulous ­development. There’s a Frank Gehry this and a Frank Gehry that, a swimming pool, a private members’ club and lots of artisanal independent retailers selling organic rhubarb and fancy beer, blah blah blah.

Their roll-call of “good things” included the ominous words “affordable housing”, but this appears to be anything but. After the presentation, I promptly stuck my hand up and asked them what they actually meant by affordable housing. The answer I got wasn’t satisfactory, so I asked again: “What does your entry-level accommodation cost?” And the very charming man with the lapel-mike coughed apologetically and almost whispered, “£350,000.” At which point I made my excuses and left.

The idea that my daughters can one day get on the property ladder in London is pure fantasy, and they certainly won’t be living in Battersea, or indeed anywhere near it.

 

Back in fashion

Last Thursday, Theresa May hosted her first reception at Downing Street for the British fashion industry, an event that usually takes place twice a year, and which is attended by fashion designers, industry figures, newspaper and magazine editors and the like. ­Samantha Cameron was always a significant supporter of the sector (which contributes more to the country’s GDP than the car industry), as was Sarah Brown before her, and it is instructive that May has decided to follow in their footsteps.

It’s also telling that Mrs Cameron was not only invited to the event at No 10 but turned up, which says a lot about both women. Theresa May is a fundamentally shy person, yet she not only made a pitch-perfect speech in front of a Brexit-sensitive (and quite possibly suspicious) crowd, but chose to embrace the opportunity to espouse the growing importance of an industry that was so closely associated with the wife of her predecessor. There is such a lot of noise at the moment surrounding the PM’s apparent lack of interest in remaining on good terms with David Cameron, so one wonders what, if anything, is going on here. Taken at face value, May’s move at the reception was extremely classy.

 

The spying game

The following day I found myself in Cheltenham for a five-hour briefing on counterterrorism, cyber-defence, drug smuggling and child kidnapping at GCHQ.

I had expected the place to be like the Foreign Office, but it’s actually more like Google, Apple or Nike, and feels as though it could easily be a campus on America’s “Left Coast”.

There is an incredible sense of purpose at GCHQ, a feeling that they are all working for the common good, and frankly I found it infectious. While the denizens of Silicon Valley might be very adept at pushing the frontiers of consumerism, designing training shoes, telephones and algorithms, it felt far more appropriate to be spending time with men and women obsessed with making the world safer.

Dylan Jones is the editor-in-chief of GQ and a trustee of the Hay Festival

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times