When a movie opens with the main characters on a train, we know we’re being offered people in transition. Though the trip may be only from Italy to France – our route in 2 Days in Paris – the travelers’ flux won’t settle just because they de-board. In Julie Delpy’s directorial debut (which she also wrote, co-produced, edited and scored) delivers us two such transitory souls in 30-something Marion (Delpy), and her boyfriend of two years, Jack (Adam Goldberg).
After two tumultuous weeks in Venice, the couple makes a titular stop in Paris to visit Marion’s parents before returning back home to New York. Marion narrates this portrait of pratfalls of yet another modern relationship with a self-concerned and self-absorbed fear of commitment.
Though Jack breezes into Paris complaining about everything from the allergy-aggravating fungi, to the smaller condom size, to even other American tourists, the next 48 hours prove more taxing than everyday grievances. A family of passionate artists and a city of ex-boyfriends might not be the most pleasant spot for Goldberg’s self-conscious and arrogant Jack.
As I write this, I find myself consciously steering away from using more words prefaced with “self-”; selfishness is a hard-hitting theme throughout the film. Both Marion and Jack are so concerned with the shortcomings of their partner they never once examine how they operate as a unit. In all of its 96-minutes, there is only one non-sexual compliment between the two of them. Marion shows her gratitude when Jack misdirects Bush-voting, DaVinci-code-breaking tourists away from the Louvre so the two can get in a taxi sooner. Well at least they have some things in common: they’re both grateful the other’s an elitist, New York hipster.
There’re a cadre of films for comparison, in fact an entire genre, but this film is better viewed on its own merits. Though it does get a bit reference-heavy (Godard, Bertolucci, and Lange to name a few), the voice is its own. And Delpy’s command behind the camera and especially in the editing room make it seem unbelievable it’s been so hard for her to be funded in the past. A point she discusses in a very thorough, albeit aloofly arrogant interview included on the DVD.
One of the main discussion points in the interview is the style of 2 Days in Paris, which Delpy titles “post-romantic”. Though we can extrapolate a love between Marion and Jack in the past, the 48 hours in the film hold nothing but one fight after another. Distancing a relationship from its romance is an interesting choice, and makes the seemingly light-hearted film much more solemn than its relationship-comedy contemporaries.
There is skepticism in every one of the couple’s interactions throughout the film. We want Marion and Jack to stay together because that’s what our mind tells us, but body seethes with the primal thought that maybe these two just aren’t ready to be in any relationship, let alone with each other. At the end, when we’ve seen no examples of love, affection, caring or understanding from either party—how are we supposed to feel good when they decide to stay together?
Whether this underlying skepticism is an intentional undercutting of the romantic comedy, or just an unforeseen result is unimportant (though Delpy’s interview makes me think the latter). The power inherent in each eye roll and sarcastic remark makes us feel guilty we’re watching these moments. When the two first arrive, Marion manufactures the demand, “No sarcasm in Paris,” to which Jack portentously replies, “Ok, I’ll be quiet for two days.” This isn’t pretty.
Because of our limited view, the film operates much like a good friend’s enigmatically bad relationship. Since we only hear about the fights and misunderstandings, there’s no bearing for the good times. So when our friend eventually gets married, we’re conflicted, and our only resolution is to say, “Well, as long as she’s happy.” There’s a leap of faith involved in that conclusion and 2 Days in Paris questions that faith every step of the way.
Delpy has crafted a wonderful, truly sad film. I think it’s more forlorn and despondent than she intends, but that doesn’t detract from its triumph. During the climactic confrontation, with a distancing voice-over by Marion, the couple realizes that even though they’ve been together for two years, they know nothing about one another. We see clearly they’ve been gaining little more than sexual satisfaction from one another all this time.
The final, discordant scene shows Marion and Jack dancing into the Parisian night, deciding to give the relationship a real chance. But we’re left with our own unresolved feelings towards their newfound happiness. Because nothing’s going to change. Marion’s still going to be a miserable, guilt-ridden, self-hating wreck, and Jack will always see himself a victim of circumstance and of the people around him. They both resolve to overcome their commitment phobia, but that’s something I’ve sure they’ve both said in prior relationships, already.
It’s in the contrast between the film’s opening image of the sick, annoyed, sleeping couple on the train, and the final evening dance where Delpy has left us her message. As we watch them move blissfully in the night, we haven’t forgotten anything about the last 48 hours. And we can only hope they haven’t, either.