French multihyphenate Julie Delpy has become something of a household name in North America thanks to her role as Céline in Richard Linklater's Before series of dusk and dawn titled films. Despite her fame, though, she and I eschewed the traditional interview mode – nibbling niçoise salads at the Chateau Marmont – for a phone conversation leading up to the Toronto International Film Festival to discuss her new film, Lolo.
Delpy wrote, directed, and stars in Lolo, which is her second French feature and is screening at TIFF just after a run in Venice. As a director, Delpy moves as fluidly between French and English as she does in her acting roles, with numerous directing credits on features in both languages. Proof of her transatlantic talents lies in her aptly titled film couplet: 2 Days in Paris (2007) and 2 Days in New York (2012).
In Lolo, Delpy plays Violette, a hard-working fashion-industry maven who lives with her Machiavellian 20-year-old son (Vincent Lacoste as Lolo), and falls in love with a provincial bumpkin from Biarritz played by Dany Boon. Far from the realm of autobiography, Delpy found it refreshing to write a screenplay so distant from her own reality. Unlike Violette, Delpy is no workaholic –"my personal life is as important as my work life, if not way more" she said – and her son Leo is nothing like the film's manipulative Lolo.
But despite its fictionality, some clunky plot twists and a tone that teeters awkwardly between romantic comedy and psychological nightmare, Lolo has brief and funny moments of authenticity. In particular, I was interested in how true to life the conversation was between Violette and her best friend, Ariane (Karin Viard). Whether it be in France or America, banter as sexually explicit and as centred on female pleasure as theirs is rarely heard in mainstream film.
Delpy explained that she "wanted to write women characters that talk about sex in a way that is completely devoid of filter … it is closer to the truth. With other films, it's as if they are scared to show how women really talk, like no one really wants to know."
But how does Delpy juggle being both behind and in front of the camera? "The truth is, you're never not working. It needs constant attention, which could be taken as stressful for a lot of people, but stress for me is when I'm estranged from the work," the 45-year-old said. "What I do is make sure I'm very well prepared as a director."
Delpy, who has directed no less than six films, stated matter-of-factly that it is about putting every detail in place beforehand and knowing her movie inside and out, often weeks before shooting begins. Nonetheless, an emotional scene near the end of Lolo between Violette and her troublesome son is the only one to have disrupted Delpy's best-laid plans.
"It was probably the hardest scene to shoot," Delpy explained, "and it was the only day where I began to think about doing a small rewrite. As we rehearsed the scene I realized that it was almost too dramatic at times, and so we went about adding things that were more crazy and funny."
With the help of her director of photography, Thierry Arbogast, this tense moment is one of only two scenes in the entire film to be shot with a hand-held camera. This choice was made not only to heighten the intimacy of the scene but also, as Delpy put it, to "give an unsettled feeling."
Whether the film achieves the balance it seeks between the comedic and the dramatic will be left up to audiences, but Delpy sums it up best herself when she says Lolo is "still a comedy – but it's a little heavier."