There are few things more terrifying than the prospect of meeting potential in-laws for the first time. Will they like you or hate you? Will they quiz you about your intentions or compare you to every previous sacrificial lamb their kid has brought home? Add to that the confusion of being in a new country and speaking a different language and you’ve got the situation Jack (Adam Goldberg) finds himself in when he lands in Paris for the first time with his girlfriend Marion (Julie Delpy).
In Delpy’s film Two Days in Paris, they’re spending a couple of days in the French capital on their way back to New York after what was meant to be a romantic holiday in Venice. The trip went wrong for a multitude of reasons (read: explosive diarrhoea…) and they’re at that point in a holiday when you still love your partner, but you’re not sure you like them very much. Getting home will feel like a vacation, but first they have to endure a couple of days in the studio apartment Marion keeps above her wonderfully eccentric parents, Anna and Jeannot (played by Delpy’s real-life mum and dad, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy).
Jack is already on edge in Paris: it’s Marion’s home town, it’s not neutral territory, and it represents the life – and the lovers – that happened before he met her. He’s also a hypochondriac, is preoccupied by fears of a terror attack and doesn’t speak French, so has no idea what people are saying, but figures by their side glances and conspiratorial tones, they’re probably talking about him. And usually, they are.
This feeling of unease is only amplified in the home of Marion’s folks. Jeannot and Anna are aging radical bohemians, eager to expose their future son-in-law as the uncultured neophyte they’re convinced he is, quizzing him in French, talking over him and laughing out loud at Jack’s attempts at understanding. It’s not really mean-spirited – what father doesn’t delight in grilling his darling daughter’s potential groom? – but it’s definitely enough to make anyone uncomfortable.
To make things worse? Jack experiences painful (but hilarious) childhood flashbacks when he realises what Jeannot has served up for lunch. “Lapin”, Jeannot says proudly, making his fingers into two little ears above his head, “lapin”… or, as Marion puts it, “bunny”. Jack is horrified by memories of Oliver, his pet rabbit who was mauled to death when he was a child. He still doesn’t like to talk about it. But it’s okay, he’ll eat his friend for lunch… with a side of carrots. Because eating the rabbit AND the rabbit’s food doesn’t make it any weirder.
It’s a brilliant scene. It’s a deeply relatable situation: anyone who has ever had to endure meeting the in-laws will recognise that feeling when you meet your person’s “people” and suddenly they start to make more sense, but at the same time, you wonder how the hell you fit in. But beyond that, it’s just funny.
Cross-cultural humour is almost always funny, as long as both cultures are in on the joke, and in this case, they are. Marion’s parents might think Jack is an uncultured lightweight, but you just know he thinks they’re pretentious lunatics, so it evens out. And the poor bunny, innocently served up as Jeannot’s “spécialité de la maison”, becomes a symbol for Jack’s paranoia that Marion’s parents – and all of Paris, for that matter – really are out to get him.
It’s a scene which exposes the rifts, cultural and otherwise, between the US and France. In the US, friends are definitely not food… in Paris, however, well, if you don’t eat the head, as Jeannot tells Jack, you’re not a real man.
While we Aussies tend to consider ourselves foodies, we’d be lying if we said rabbit was a staple of our diet. But the truth is, we’re missing out! It’s a delicious, gamy meat which deserves its place on our dinner table. So, if like Jack you see “Bunny” and think “Bugs”, here’s a delicious braised rabbit recipe from SBS food to change your thinking.
And here’s Two Days in Paris at SBS On Demand, to watch preferably with a glass of French red in hand while you’re waiting for that bunny to boil. (Sorry. I tried really hard but I couldn’t resist a Fatal Attraction reference…)