Two Days in Paris (15)

Romance for perverts
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The Independent Culture

The French actress Julie Delpy has made her first film. While she thanks a whole army of friends and helpers in the closing credits, she seems to have taken Orson Welles as inspiration in her own multitasking. She's not only the star of Two Days in Paris, she is the writer, director, editor and co-producer; she also co-wrote and performed the song "Lalala" that closes the film. For all I know, she also made the bacon sandwiches for the crew and did all the washing-up.

Though she may have learnt from Welles in terms of energy and ambition, it is from Woody Allen that she has derived her comic style. Delpy has written for movies before – she won an Oscar nomination for co-writing Before Sunset, the second part of the Richard Linklater diptych – but this screenplay, with its overlapping dialogue and adversarial voices, is clearly in thrall to her master's voice. You can hear echoes of Annie Hall instantly as Marion (Delpy) and her American boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg) return to her apartment and he takes fright at the casual squalor: "It's like a Petri dish for allergens." The plaintive tone, the health concern, the neurotic exaggeration – it's got Woody on the brain.

Marion and Jack are in Paris visiting her parents and hoping to breathe some life back into their romance, which has flagged in the two years they've been together. But if Jack was expecting to find some old-world charm in the city, he's sorely mistaken. For one thing, he can't get away from America, whether it's tourists in the taxi queue, an unsatisfactory hommage to Brando's shouting scene under the bridge in Last Tango In Paris, or a visit to Jim Morrison's grave ("I'm a huge Val Kilmer fan," he quips).

Parisians themselves freak him out. On the subway, they're stalked by a staring weirdo; in a cab, they're harangued by a racist Holocaust-denying driver. He can't make head or tail of Marion's hippie parents (played by Delpy's own) – the father is a sex-obsessed artist, the mother a one-time groupie – and when they go out he keeps running into Marion's ex-boyfriends. An encounter with an old flame who gave Marion "her first orgasm" is almost the final straw; one recalls Woody Allen similarly stumped on meeting pint-sized Wallace Shawn in Manhattan, playing the sexually dynamic ex-husband whom Diane Keaton has talked up so reverentially.

Delpy has fun with this comedy of disorientation, sending up French attitudes to Americans and vice versa. She's generously given many of the good lines to Goldberg, who is an affable comic presence in spite of a certain whininess (He's got the Woody repertoire of gulps, twitches and stony stares down to a T.)

Delpy's character, a nod to Keaton in Annie Hall and Manhattan, is less endearing, if only because her flakiness and sudden volcanic bursts of hostility would drive anyone to distraction. When Jack accuses Marion of lying to him about filthy text messages she's received from one of those exes, she retorts: "It's funny; let me translate the humour for you." That would have to be quite some translation. "Is she meant to be this annoying?" I asked my wife at one point. "She's not annoying," came the reply. Therein may lie the different perspectives on this movie.

Towards the end, Delpy uses her own voice-over to comment on the lovers' troubles, and we hear something more considered and forgiving. If she could contrive a way for that voice to balance her more shrill declamatory style she may one day write something brilliant. For now, this slight, intermittently funny squib is a promising signpost.

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