Bully boy

Julie Delpy on directing Lolo and playing the mother of a monster.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Julie Delpy: "Blake Edwards is really the inspiration for this film."
Julie Delpy: "Blake Edwards is really the inspiration for this film." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Pink Panther with Peter Sellers, Wolf Rilla's Village Of The Damned, Mervyn LeRoy's - not Nick Cave's - The Bad Seed and designing with Emmanuelle Duplay and Pierre-Yves Gayraud, came up as Karl Lagerfeld goes underground in Julie Delpy's poking Lolo, starring Vincent Lacoste, Danny Boon, Karin Viard and Delpy herself.

Julie is also featured in Caroline Suh's The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem with Anjelica Huston, Patricia Clarkson, Judd Apatow, Christine Vachon, Mira Nair, Michael Moore, Lake Bell, Amy Berg, James Franco, Kristen Wiig, Michael Mann, Paul Feig, Catherine Hardwicke, A. O. Scott, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Dawn Hudson, Jill Soloway, Mary Harron and Amy Heckerling.

Violette (Julie Delpy): "Of course it's not autobiographical."
Violette (Julie Delpy): "Of course it's not autobiographical."

In Delpy's vivacious comedy of ill-manners. she plays Violette, divorced mother to a pouting, maniacal, big teenage baby boy named Lolo (Lacoste). Violette meets affable local, Jean-René (Boon), while on vacation with her outspoken friend Ariane (Viard) in Biarritz. An introduction of Jean-René to her son when he comes to Paris and starts courting Violette is all it takes for the pampered Lolo to sense a threat to his world that has to be eliminated at any cost.

The boy thinks of himself as an artist and lives at home where his mother daily prepares for him two eggs with soldiers - buttered bread cut in handy strips to dunk into the soft-boiled yolks - so that the little sweetheart has no work at all with his breakfast. This beloved treat many of us remember fondly from childhood, turned into his grotesque demand, symbolises the emotional standstill between them. Is this child a sociopath, out to destroy any possible future relationships for his hopeful mother?

Earlier, Julie Delpy and I discussed her role in The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem.

Violette with Ariane (Karin Viard) in Biarritz
Violette with Ariane (Karin Viard) in Biarritz

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let's jump into Lolo. The opening credits have the feel of Pink Panther, Doris Day, Rock Hudson comedies. I particularly love the cartoon jump into the pool and then you are in the pool.

Julie Delpy: Of course, Blake Edwards is really the inspiration for this film. Kind of like a funny, dark, crazy, kind of like absurd farce. Obviously I'm not pretending to be Blake Edwards. But I've always loved his films growing up. It's a bit of an homage to him.

AKT: Did you have fun dressing the men?

JD: Or undressing them!

AKT: Or undressing them. Those shorts at the start!

JD: Yeah, I had fun. I am very precise in objects. I made my production designer [Emmanuelle Duplay] look everywhere for this egg holder. I wanted it to be a cool Sixties [one] but have two eggs, just because of a little Freudian reference. I loved picking [clothes for] Jean-René [Dany Boon]. He had to be kind of embarrassing but not too much. He couldn't be a ridiculous guy dressed in Seventies clothes or something crazy because that's almost cool.

Gérard (Christophe Vandevelde) Jean-René (Dany Boon): "I had fun dressing everybody."
Gérard (Christophe Vandevelde) Jean-René (Dany Boon): "I had fun dressing everybody."

We went to buy stuff, she went to buy stuff in a very basic clothing store. The guy obviously doesn't go for the fashion-y stuff, you know. I had fun dressing everybody. I loved picking every detail because I'm obsessed with details. To me that's what makes movies.

AKT: "Hell" and "Dead" are the two things written on the screen. "Hell" is written on the wall and "Dead" is on [Jean-René's] T-shirt when meeting Karl Lagerfeld.

JD: I love to do fun things like that. Very few people noticed but in Two Days in Paris there's lots of details like that. Like, they are lying down next to each other in the first scene and she has a gun on her T-shirt pointing towards him. It's almost like a game to me, all those details.

AKT: How did Karl Lagerfeld get involved? Was he game immediately?

JD: He was awesome. I asked him. I've known him for many years, 20 years or something. His team was so supportive. Elsa, who has worked with him for many years, she was wonderful. Basically, he agreed. It wasn't completely easy because he is a bit scared of getting in the subway. Believe it or not, he has a fear of the subway.

AKT: Subway phobia?

Jean-René with Violette: "He had to be kind of embarrassing but not too much."
Jean-René with Violette: "He had to be kind of embarrassing but not too much."

JD: Subway phobia, but he did it without questioning.

AKT: He didn't even have to ride the subway. Just be down there.

JD: Riding the subway was more his anxiety, like the tunnels and everything. But he was awesome and a lot of fun. And he enjoyed it, too.

AKT: My clothes question [costumes by Pierre-Yves Gayraud] was already going in the direction that the love interest in his shorts looks like a little boy, whereas your son, Lolo, behaves almost as though you were his wife in the film.

JD: Yeah, very possessive. Even though the kid is always in his underwear at home, which sometimes children do. More than grownups. I also picked underwear that looked like kids' underwear. Those briefs that not everybody wears, colourful underwear. I like the idea that he is still a little boy in a way, also.

AKT: But a very aggressive one?

JD: He doesn't want to share the milk.

Lolo (Vincent Lacoste) with Jean-René and his mother Violette: "Yeah, very possessive."
Lolo (Vincent Lacoste) with Jean-René and his mother Violette: "Yeah, very possessive."

AKT: Or the eggs.

JD: Or the eggs.

AKT: I was thinking of this monster child while riding the bus crosstown from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side. There were mothers and their sons were commanding them around. I thought, okay, there is Lolo!

JD: That's the thing with children, You have to set limits sometimes. The film has nothing autobiographical. My son is a sweet little [boy] full of empathy.

AKT: Do people ask you that?

JD: Of course people ask me. Of course it's not autobiographical. My son is seven. He always protects the little guy.

AKT: You would be the monster if you did that.

JD: The film is more inspired by what I've witnessed. Friends of mine that have teenagers. They've done everything for them. They'd give their life and blood to them and suddenly the kids turn on them. I think a child really grows up when they forgive their parent for not being perfect. Sometimes kids hate their parents that are actually good people. I wanted to have fun with this. Poor Violette, she did everything right probably. She told her son he was the greatest. She believes he is the greatest … artist.

AKT: But nobody else does.

Jean-René with Karl Lagerfeld: "He was awesome. I asked him [Lagerfeld]. I've known him for many years …"
Jean-René with Karl Lagerfeld: "He was awesome. I asked him [Lagerfeld]. I've known him for many years …"

JD: She thinks he is the greatest thing in the world, yet he is really mean to her. It's heartbreaking in a way.

AKT: And the things he does! Itching powder? Who does such a thing?

JD: It's not very bad, it's just kind of childish. If you think about it, he is not doing horrible things.

AKT: Ruining somebody's career? Drugging someone?

JD: Yeah, it goes pretty far. He's pretty bad.

AKT: Village Of The Damned?

JD: I love that film. It was a wink at the idea that the enemy was within. How do you deal with when the children that came out of you are the bad people? I remember one day I spoke to someone. They had this kid and they don't know why he is so mean to them. Since he is two years old he has been awful. And they don't know what they are doing wrong.

There is a film from the Fifties called Bad Seed with a little girl who does terrible things and the parents always question what they did wrong. Then they realise something was up from the beginning, some bad seed. People's energy is starting very early. My son, for example, has always taken on the little kid in the classroom to take care of. He has always been protective of people, the opposite of Lolo. I have a friend who is the most peaceful person and she has a bully for a kid. Her husband and her are the nicest people in the world.

Lolo: "He doesn't want to share the milk."
Lolo: "He doesn't want to share the milk."

AKT: The relationship [in Lolo] between you and Karin Viard [Ariane] is interesting. She is a good sidekick. Was there somebody from these Sixties or Blake Edwards comedies she was modeled after?

JD: That's kind of a modern character. In a way she has a bit of the personality of my mother. Not in age but in kind of this very direct personality - not afraid to say everything. Kind of politically incorrect as well at times. Things like "Oh, I hate my daughter", the most horrible thing like "Oh it sucks to be a mom." Things that people would never dare to say.

My mom was not like that, she loved being a mom but she would sometimes say the most outrageous thing in front of people and they would love that. In a way, I miss that … Sometimes it's fun to see people doing wrong things.

AKT: The son [Lolo] is the king of bad advice.

Lolo and Violette
Lolo and Violette

JD: That's the way sociopaths are. They tell you, your friends don't really care for you, get rid of them. So, slowly, you are alone. They will mislead you, they will push you in the wrong directions so you'll mess up. That's what sociopaths do. It's a subtle way of sabotaging someone's life. They are not going to tie you up to a chair, that's a psychopath. But sociopath narcissists, they mess up your life. They mess with your head with little things.

They play on your insecurities. He knows his mom is a hypochondriac so he will go for that. He knows his mom is insecure about other women, pretty young women, because she is in that world where everyone is beautiful, so of course he puts two young women in the bed. He plays the double game, pretending he wants to help to actually hurt. That's what sociopaths do - they pretend they like you and care for you to actually destroy you. That's very twisted.

Read what Julie Delpy had to say on The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem and making films in France.

Lolo is in theatres in the US.

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