Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 11 May 2007
Source Samuel Goldwyn Films 35mm print
Features: The 2007 Tribeca Film Festival
Paris is often cast in the movies as a city where love blossoms, but in Julie Delpy’s latest directorial effort, it is a chaotic place where the past and present come full circle to confront an otherwise happy couple. Taking a page from her collaborations with Richard Linklater (most notably Before Sunset, which she co-wrote as well as acted in), Delpy moves fluidly between slapstick comedy and raw drama as she effortlessly evokes the heady pace of a short stopover in the city of lights.
By the time they arrive in town, French-born Marion (played by Delpy) and her American boyfriend Jack find their patience with each other wearing thin. Their romantic holiday in Venice was marred by Jack’s bout of gastroenteritis, and Marion has grown exasperated by Jack’s compulsive habit of photographing everything in sight. To add to their stress, Jack, who speaks little French, will be meeting Marion’s parents and her sister Rose for the first time.
The first half of the film puts a stronger emphasis on farce than the latter portion, which concentrates on exploring the ins and outs of Marion and Jack’s increasingly fragile relationship. From the moment the couple steps into Marion’s parents’ apartment, they are engulfed in non-stop chatter and argument, with Jack looking on blankly, pausing only to make the occasional cultural gaffe. If these scenes feel especially intimate and naturalistic, then a quick glance at the credits explains why: cast in the roles of Marion’s mother and father are Delpy’s own parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy.
To escape the claustrophobia of the family apartment, the couple decides to venture out onto the streets of Paris, stopping by an art gallery opening and a party thrown by one of Marion’s friends. This plan, however, swiftly backfires on them as it results in them running into two of Marion’s ex-boyfriends, neither of whom seem to have entirely gotten over her. His insecurities heightened by the foreign surroundings, Jack does not take kindly to these encounters, and his jealousy leads both him and Marion to question how well they truly know one another.
While the film has earned comparisons to Meet the Parents, the humor is generally less broad, and it is often coupled with sly cultural observations. For every gag about American tourists proudly sporting Bush/Cheney t-shirts and the size of French condoms, there is a more nuanced look at the cross-cultural divide; Jack, for instance, is not a stereotypical ugly American — he smokes and drinks, and save his lack of facility with the French language, blends in with Marion’s hip Parisian friends. What eventually emerges is an intelligent, witty look at a relationship.