There’s nothing like love in Paris — in French movies, at least, it’s the city where romance goes to die. Such is the case in Julie Delpy’s rollicking and rueful feature debut, in which she applies the Crimes and Misdemeanors dictum that comedy is tragedy plus time. (That’s the last comparison I’ll make between Delpy and Woody Allen; her style and tone remind me more of the François Truffaut of the Antoine Doinel films.)
VIDEO: Watch the trailer for Two Days in Paris
In this case, the time is the title 48 hours, which is how long it takes the two lovers to recognize their misery and their limitations. Things look bad from the start as Marion (Delpy), a begoggled French photographer, and her bearded, hypochondriac American beau, Jack (Adam Goldberg), take the train from Venice to Paris, Marion’s home town. Asleep, they look as rumpled as Marion’s voiceover, which describes their trip as an attempt to re-create Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, but with a happy ending.
Needless to say, the plan doesn’t succeed: once they step outside the Gare de Lyon and into the crowded taxi line and head for her cramped bedroom in her parents’ house, the bickering and acrid banter never cease. At first it seems this will all get tired fast, the litany of Jack’s phobias, the rants of simian cab drivers, and Marion’s intensifying, sometimes inexplicable, free-floating rage. But the witty, raunchy dialogue affords temporary relief. Delpy gives Goldberg, her real-life ex-boyfriend, some of the movie’s best lines, and he delivers them like a brawny, macho, tattoo’d version of another schlemiel whose name I won’t mention.
She also gives him reasons to complain. There’s her parents: her well-intended but intrusive mother (Delpy’s own mother, Marie Pillet) and her red-faced, bacchic, gleefully diabolical dad (her father, Albert Delpy, my choice so far for the year’s best supporting actor). But that pair are a pleasure compared to the ex-boyfriends who pop up with unnerving frequency, on the street, at parties, in cafés. Delpy’s direction in these scenes evokes Altman with their fluidity and edge, and each is a little absurdist play of embarrassment, torment, and comic squirming. The encounters humiliate and alienate, convincing Marion of her own depravity and Jack’s inadequacy and inflaming Jack’s suspicions and self-loathing. These two are a 21st-century Americanized version of the doomed couple in Swann in Love.
Is it Paris or, as Jack proclaims, is it Hell? If the latter, it’s the opposite of Sartre’s other people. Both Marion and Jack insist on putting obstacles between the two of them and between their desire and their experience, whether it’s hypochondria, photography, jealousy, the past, the future, or a rambling voiceover narration. Even the jokes, funny as they are, are in every sense offputting. For Marion, this detachment begins with her retinas; they’re perforated with holes, so she sees everything as if through a screen peppered with buckshot. Jack’s excuse is less tangible. They deserve each other, if only so those who have never been in love in Paris can laugh.