Reviewed by Jacob Powell

WHAT DO YOU do when you realise you don’t really know the person you love? Or worse, when you have yet to truly open yourself up to that person? What will it cost to expose the all of who you are – the not so attractive fears and insecurities alongside the better bits? 2 Days in Paris sees writer/director Julie Delpy wax lyrical (and humorous) upon the complexities of cross-cultural couplings, and how people deal with their own neuroses in the context of relationships.

Marion and Jack are a cosmopolitan thirty-something couple who have been together for a little over two years. Marion, a photographer with an interesting eye disorder, hails from Paris but currently lives and works in New York where she met Jack, an interior designer and native New Yorker. The film begins with the pair returning to the USA from a holiday in Venice. On the way back they stop over for a couple of days in Paris to stay with Marion’s parents, providing Jack with his introduction to her colourful family unit: an emotional mother with boundary issues, a neurotic artist father and a younger sister cut from similar cloth. As the two days slowly elapse, Jack is exposed to Marion’s heretofore unexplored past, and is consequently faced with his own very real insecurities. Amidst the eccentric and impassioned family gatherings, various tourist and social outings, and several failed sexual liaisons the couple begin to see that maybe their relationship is perhaps not as solid as it seemed.

2 Days in Paris seems a natural extension of Delpy’s work in Richard Linklater’s existential relationship piece Before Sunrise (1995) and its 2004 sequel Before Sunset (in which she had a script writing role). Not only do both stories focus on a French/American couple, but they also share similar settings (Before Sunrise a night in Vienna, Before Sunset a couple of hours in Paris) as well as the same love of involved philosophical discourse. In fact, Linklater’s works – which were a major factor in growth of Delpy’s international profile – are lovingly referenced right from the first scene of the film which sees the couple returning to Paris from Venice on a train with Jack lying down to sleep. In Before Sunrise the couple (played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) meet on a train and, as I only recently learned, Adam Goldberg (Jack) plays an uncredited role as a man asleep on that same train.

For those who feel a yawn coming on at the though of a romantic drama, 2 Days in Paris is full to the brim of intelligent humour which Delpy cleverly uses to bring about the central characters’ moments of emerging self-awareness. Some have commented on Delpy’s use of Woody Allen character tropes (the neurotic New Yorkers on a voyage of self discovery) but I think that she injects enough of her own unique perspective to make this film more than a mere homage to other directors’ works. Most of the film’s humour is in the Lost In Translation-type scenarios arising from Jack’s lack of French language skills. To help enhance the believability of Goldberg’s sense of confusion, Delpy didn’t bother translating whole chunks of the dialogue – particularly some of the more embarrassing parts directed at his character. The director aptly employs these comic interludes to soften the moments of less comfortable character exploration.

Adam Goldberg wholly inhabits the character of Jack – who is not unlike many of the roles he finds himself cast in – whilst Delpy cannot help but breathe life into a character that she not only plays but has also conceived. Delpy makes the project somewhat of a family affair, utilising both of her actual parents as her onscreen parents – played with great comic relish – and makes use of some of her father’s poetry in the film. In fact the entire film resonates with Delpy’s creative impulse: the close-ups, at times disconcerting, which purposefully plant you in the characters’ headspace; the intensely personal dialogue highlighting the conflict between openness and insecurity; the unromantic, yet affectionately lived-in feel of the Parisian setting. Considering she starred in as well as directed such a dialogue-heavy film in which her character spends most of the time onscreen Delpy can be forgiven if the dialogue occasionally feels a little over worked; not everyone can pen natural conversational dialogue as consistently as, say, Andrew Bujalski’s effort in Mutual Appreciation. That she also edited the movie and wrote/performed much of the film’s soundtrack helps to make this production a noteworthy feat.

This is the kind of film which, for all its fun and quirks, actually makes you think about where you’re at in your own relationships. Am I as honest and open as I could be? What would happen if I was? What conclusions are my insecurities making me jump to and are they trustworthy conclusions? Any piece of cinema that prompts a little self-reflection and analysis offers something better than merely entertainment. If it also manages to come up with the goods in the entertainment department then I say it’s well worth the ticket price. For my money, 2 Days in Paris certainly is.

» Julie Delpy | France | 2007 | 96 min | Featuring: Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Daniel Brühl, Marie Pillet, Albert Delpy, and Aleksia Landeau. Opens March 20.