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TIFF 2015: Julie Delpy on working mothers and the 'guilt' she feels when leaving home

The French actress, director and screenwriter delivers her sixth film, ‘Lolo,’ to the Toronto International Film Festival

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David Koskas

Julie Delpy has never been one to shy away from exploiting cultural differences between France and America, nor gender differences between men and women, as a way to find humor — or a modicum of honesty — in her work. She did so notoriously well as the co-writer and star of Richard Linklater’s 21-year Before trilogy, and again with her own directing of 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York. Her new film, Lolo, which she wrote, directed and also stars in, is a bit of a departure, as it’s a completely French endeavor, co-starring French comedian and filmmaker Dany Boon, in a film that’s more Bad Seed than romantic comedy. 

Lolo stars Delpy as Violette, an over-worked 40-something who meets a naïve technologist from Biarritz and falls into a heady love affair. But cultural differences between the sophisticated Parisian and the hick from the country are the least of their concerns. Rather, the couple has to contend with Violette’s manipulative, and somewhat evil 20-year old son Lolo (Vincent Lacoste), who is out to destroy the couple’s newfound relationship. The film explores the age-old nature versus nurture question while also touching upon working-mother guilt in a comedy that never gets too serious. Lolo debuted in Venice to strong reviews and will be having its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday. We caught up with Delpy when she was in Los Angeles on a little respite between the two festivals. Here are some excerpts from our conversation. 

Why did you choose to make a completely French film this time around?

The dialogue was really important to me. I wanted to use the French slang, which I love. It’s fun and kinda naughty but not completely dirty — because somehow in French it sounds pretty.

Yet it is pretty raunchy, especially the conversations between your character and your best friend, played by Karin Viard.

The dialogue between the two women characters was really direct, and I really wanted it that way. They have no filter, basically. What they think is what they say. I also wanted to show women in their forties having fun with the subject of sex and not making it some weird taboo because then to me it’s ridiculous — like the Fifty Shades of Grey version of it which is so bad. In your 20s sex is such a big deal. In your 40s, it is a big deal but you can have fun with it too.

Where did you come up with this sick and twisted story about this mother’s demented relationship with her son?

This story doesn’t at all come from my personal life. I have a 6-year-old who is absolutely adorable and is the opposite of a sociopath because he is full of empathy. It’s more based on films that I grew up with that I loved, like Bad Seed with the little girl who is so evil and is doing all that stuff. Was Lolo born that way or did she turn him into this monster by never saying no to anything because she felt guilty that she was working too much. Or was he born that way, this horrible little Machiavellian piece-of-sh–.

What was it about those movies from the 50s that inspired you?

I love all those movies, Bad Seed, Children of the Damned — where actually the bad person was at home. I always love when the bad person isn’t a stranger but is either your husband or your kid. That’s what is so good in The Shining. The monster isn’t a complete stranger that’s trying to come into your house. It’s your husband. It’s more exciting, more entertaining and probably, more true to life.

In this situation it doesn’t go as far as murder. I make it playful and obviously, it’s a comedy. Instead of really putting poison in his food, he’s putting itchy powder in his clothes. It’s harmless and childish and completely silly. And that’s what I wanted, [to play up] the absurdity of the situation.

But that’s a fine line. You don’t know where it’s going to go. It makes you cringe the whole way through.

That’s the thing. You know something bad is going to happen and then you make it silly. It’s a fun game to play to actually keep that fine line between going to far and staying funny and light and harmless. Picking the computer worm the son puts in Jean-Rene’s program: a character jumping around saying “Eat my sh–, you capitalist pig.” To me, that’s completely hilarious to have the newscasters saying that on TV. It’s even funnier in French. Writing that script was almost like being a kid again. I wanted the jokes to be from the point of view of a child. Lolo as a kid would put his mom’s cashmere sweaters in the dryer at 90 degrees Celsius. I wanted it to come from a child’s view of things he would be thinking of to do to that poor character Jean-Rene. It was the kind of stuff that would make me laugh as a kid.

You’re are dealing with the issue of working mother’s guilt in a light and funny way and how they worry about what kind of effect not always being at home will have on their children?

Obviously, that’s a big thing in my life. I don’t think a man could have the guilt I have about going to work. There is no way. Mothers have this innate guilt in leaving. I’m consumed with guilt whenever I leave. And then when I come back from work, the guilt makes me allow my son to do everything. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’m trying to be more strict with him but it’s very hard when you’ve been away for two weeks. You want to let your kid literally step on you — just don’t step on my neck. It’s very hard to balance work and motherhood. I saw Room yesterday and it’s good. But what I was thinking was the complete wrong thing. I was thinking: “Oh, how lucky she is to be trapped with her son in a room and she can’t get out.” What am I thinking? I was thinking the totally wrong thing about the film. I was thinking, I wish I could be trapped in a room with my son everyday of my life.

Maybe that’s why there are not so many women directors because directing a film takes you away most of the time. And I’m struggling with it, but I’m trying to do it anyways because I know also that giving an example of a working woman to my son is essential to me for the picture of women rights. I always thought if I give up, it’s the end of it. I don’t think my son will know the difference if I’m not home three weeks or four weeks but he will see the difference if I’m miserable, stuck at home, crying every day because I gave up my life and I’m not happy.

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