By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
She hates being lumped in with "women filmmakers," she says. "By making it obvious that it's rare, you also minimize my work."
But she also talks at length about gender discrimination in the film industry. "Sometimes I go to meetings, and people will ask me if I know what a dolly is," she says.
In a roundabout way, Hollywood's ingrained assumptions pushed Delpy into the director's chair. Before Sunset began as a series of conversations among Linklater, Delpy and Hawke, which Delpy then worked into a 40-page first draft. While she was writing it, she remembers: "My agent called, and he was like, 'What are you doing?' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm writing a screenplay with Ethan and Richard for a sequel.'
"And he was like, 'Why are you doing that?'
"And then he called me back an hour later, and he's like, 'Well, we had a meeting, and you know, we think you're not focusing enough on your acting career.' I mean, he asked me to play a sexy Latina in Rush Hour 3, or whatever."
The agent, she says, would send her to read for parts that were already cast, just to keep her busy.
"And I'm like, 'You guys have sent me on one audition in six months, and you're saying that because I'm writing, I'm not a dedicated actress?'"
The agent responded, "I think the film will never be made, and even if it's made, no one's gonna go see it."
Delpy says, "A year later, I was an Oscar nominee for writing the screenplay."
The nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, which she shared with Hawke, Linklater and Sunrise co-writer Kim Krizan (they lost to Sideways), made "people take me seriously," Delpy says. "Which is crazy."
She knew she had to take advantage of that craziness, and fast, so she quickly wrote the screenplay for 2 Days in Paris. Her pitch? A man, a woman, Paris. "I went to European financiers, kind of selling it as Before Sunset, but then I wrote something very different in tone. So I kind of tricked them."
Starring Delpy and her real-life ex-boyfriend Adam Goldberg as a New York–based couple on a bad European vacation, 2 Days in Paris uses the classic romantic travelogue form (Delpy's opening voice-over implicitly references Roberto Rossellini's Voyage to Italy) as a container for an equal-opportunity inspection of the fault lines in a long-term adult relationship. Delpy's actor parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy, co-star as Marion's parents, their long-term happiness contrasted with their daughter's self-admitted difficulty with "deciding to be with one man for good."
Goldberg's character initially seems like a toxic jerk, but over its running time, the film's point of view flips, and boyfriend and girlfriend switch roles. Ultimately, Paris plays like a referendum on the idealized version of a captivating Frenchwoman put forth in the Before films.
"I hate that men's fantasy of how women — especially French women — should be cute, sweet," Delpy says, noting that she created the character of Celine "with two guys, so I had to be a little more in the male point of view. Obviously, with Marion, that fantasy is out of the way. She's not an unbearable person, but she's real."
In a 2004 Sunday New York Times profile, writer Christopher Goodwin expressed his exasperation with how Delpy's character in Before Sunset had changed from an angelic, unformed girl in the earlier film into a "just too good to be true" woman and sniped, "Celine seems to have become the kind of person who would insist on telling you how great she is at sex while you're doing it."
2 Days in New York owns that kind of criticism by almost literalizing it. Before they're even dating, when they're just co-workers gossiping in a cubicle, Marion tells Mingus (played by Chris Rock) how good she is at fellatio: "My specialty!"
Like Paris', New York's setup is heavy with voice-over; Delpy puts us deep inside the psyche of her character before she shows the character behaving badly. The sequel is at once less emotionally resonant than the first film and more radical a bait-and-switch. In the movie, the equilibrium of the blended household she has built with boyfriend Mingus is disrupted by the arrival of Marion's father, sister and ex-boyfriend, visiting from Paris for the art show. Paris used romantic-movie tropes to call bullshit on certain types of romanticism, but New York puts more into the Trojan horse, smuggling into a cheerfully vulgar domestic farce a utopian model of post-racial relationships, a rumination on selfhood as a commodity and a study of a 40-something working mother's emotional life within a culture obsessed with flattening work-life balance into binary "can we have it all" reductions.
Rock's Mingus is a public intellectual whose conversations with the cardboard cutout of Barack Obama he keeps in his home office constitute New York's only real nods to race as an issue in contemporary American life. It's a movie in which a white woman and a black man are raising a family together, without ever suggesting that racial difference is an issue in their home or in their relationship. Its very nonchalance could be considered a step forward.
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