Two Days in Paris (15)

French girl, American boy, city of love – we've been here before, haven't we? This time, though, Julie's in charge
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The Independent Culture

Two Days in Paris was written and directed by Julie Delpy. She's also the film's star, producer and editor, she composed the music, she sings a Blondie-esque song over the closing credits, and she roped in her own parents to play her character's squabbling mère and père. Robert Rodriguez probably has the edge on her among contemporary film-makers who do every job except serving the croissants, but that's only because Two Days in Paris doesn't have any CGI monsters for Delpy to design.

What's most remarkable about her multi-tasking is that if you watched the film without knowing about it, you'd be hard-pushed to guess whether she was the film's mastermind, or whether it was her co-star, Adam Goldberg. Broadly speaking, the film is a culture-clash comedy, but if it laughs at American attitudes one moment, it laughs at French attitudes the next, and it's just as irreverent and acute about them both. This sort of balancing act was rare enough before the days of "Surrender Monkeys" and "Freedom Fries". Since then, it's been almost unheard of.

Delpy and Goldberg play Marion and Jack, two fashionably bohemian 35-year-olds who live together in New York. They've had a holiday in Venice which was spoilt both by Jack's gastroenteritis and his habit, when he wasn't on the toilet, of viewing the city through the lens of his new digital camera. Now they're stopping off in Paris before flying home. Their first obstacle is the long taxi queue outside the station. After whining about his health, his exhaustion, and the possibility of a terrorist bomb, Jack cuts down the queue by telling the gaggle of Dan Brown-loving US tourists ahead of him that they can walk to the Louvre in no time. The scene is a catalogue of American faults: paranoia, hypochondria, selfishness and stupidity. But just when you're getting ready to charge Two Days in Paris with kneejerk jingoism, Marion congratulates Jack on his craftiness, and jumps in the cab.

There can't be many comedies which are so funny in two languages simultaneously. When Marion and Jack emerge from the taxi, they dump their luggage in the studio flat which she keeps above her parents' apartment, then they go downstairs for Meet the Parents with a French twist. Marion's mother and father bicker with her in one language, Jack bickers with her in another, and the audience is in the privileged position of seeing the scene from both angles. Thanks to Delpy's dual nationality – and the sub-titles – it's as if the hero from a vintage Woody Allen comedy has wandered into an Eric Rohmer film. Our sympathies keep switching back and forth across the Atlantic.

For the next 48 hours, Marion and Jack visit some tourist sites – for a change it's the Catacombs and Père-Lachaise which are on the itinerary, and not the Eiffel Tower – and they catch up with Marion's friends and family at a party and an art gallery opening. Everywhere they go, they bump into at least one of Marion's ex-lovers. Jack grows increasingly jealous and Marion grows increasingly defensive until the question isn't whether she's been dishonest about her past, but precisely how dishonest she's been.

It's not the first time that Delpy has spent time with an American in Paris, of course. She did the same thing in Before Sunset, which she co-wrote with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke, earning an Oscar nomination for her trouble. But while her new film might not appear to be too much of a departure (Delpy has said that she couldn't get funding for the Second World War drama she would have preferred to make) Two Days in Paris is quite distinct from Before Sunset. Looking more like a French indie film than a Hollywood romance, it's shot with handheld cameras in cluttered rooms without any postcard views, and the dialogue is spikier and dirtier than we'd expect from Delpy. Goldberg's ironic, Woody Allen-ish babble, in particular, would lead you to assume that the film was scripted by the Jewish American who guest-starred in Friends, and not the French beauty with Kieslowski and Godard on her CV.

The couple's constant, half-joking digs at each other are so well written that the film slumps whenever Delpy resorts to a pseudo-poetic voice-over instead. Perhaps she wanted to compensate for giving Jack all the best lines, but towards the start of the film she keeps pausing the action and slotting in speeches (in English) about her character's childhood. And then, towards the end of the film, she uses her narration to summarise several hours of climactic argument between Marion and Jack. This device might be more representative of real life than the one employed by most romantic comedies: not many relationships are actually made or broken by somebody racing to an airport to stop their partner boarding a plane to another country. But after all the talking Marion and Jack have done in the film, it's easy to feel cheated when we can't hear them talking at the end. Maybe if there had been someone else as well as Delpy in the creative team, they might have advised her to wrap up the film in a more satisfying way. But Two Days in Paris is Delpy's show, and Delpy's alone, and it's still one of this year's most enjoyable comedies.

Further viewing Eric Rohmer's 'Les Rendez-Vous de Paris'