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Love And War 

Intimacy and Iraq featured in new releases

Not to be confused with the Paris Hilton porn flick One Night in Paris (yes, let's not make that mistake), 2 Days in Paris is a romantic comedy in which both the romance and the comedy are of the sour-pucker variety. The romance is diluted by the sort of emotional outbursts, petty tirades and jealous rages that often define real-life relationships: As we watch 30-something lovers Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) spend a couple of testy days in the title city, we wonder if they'll make it through the picture together, let alone remain a couple for the rest of their lives. As for the humor, it's smart and tart, not only springing from the lovers' innate insecurities but also from the xenophobic attitudes that suddenly seem to run rampant in every city in the world. It's not just the expected American contempt for all things French that we see here; we also witness vitriolic Gallic attitudes toward Yanks and Arabs.

The lovely Delpy, who's been appearing in movies since she was a child (she's 37 now), apes and even surpasses such figures as Orson Welles and Warren Beatty in her multitasking capabilities, serving as star, director, scripter, co-producer, editor, score composer and co-writer of the end credit tune. A vanity project? Hardly; more like the work of an accomplished filmmaker who knew exactly what type of movie she wanted to make. Besides, her generosity toward her co-stars is apparent throughout the film: Goldberg is allowed to match her quip for quip, while her real-life parents, actors Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, steal scenes as her character's folks. Albert in particular is a riot: I especially love the moment when he's trying to discuss the French poet Rimbaud and believes that Jack thinks he said Rambo ("What a bunch of idiots!" he laughs condescendingly about the American mind-set).

A bit less starry-eyed than Richard Linklater's European twofer, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (both starring Delpy opposite Ethan Hawke), 2 Days in Paris nevertheless displays a generosity of spirit, even if it's tempered with a pinch of melancholy. A problematic relationship is indeed sad, the film seems to say, but luckily, there will always be enough love to go around in this crazy world of ours.

WRITER-DIRECTOR PAUL HAGGIS will forever be lambasted in many circles because his arch drama Crash unfairly shanghaied the clearly superior Brokeback Mountain at the Oscars. But those quick to write off Haggis as a pandering huckster tend to forget that he also penned the exquisite screenplays to two Clint Eastwood triumphs, Million Dollar Baby and Letters From Iwo Jima.

It's that Paul Haggis who shows up with In the Valley of Elah, a powerful drama that employs a murder-mystery template to initially camouflage what ultimately proves to be the picture's true intent: Examine the repercussions of war on the psyches of the youngsters we ask (or order) to defend us in battle. Tommy Lee Jones, in a superlative performance, stars as Hank Deerfield, a retired officer trying to find out why his son went AWOL upon returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. It's obvious from the outset that Hank won't find his son alive, and once it's ascertained that the boy was murdered, the morose father teams up with equally glum detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) to solve the case.

On its own terms, the mystery is set up and followed through in a satisfying matter, and only those expecting an elaborate Agatha Christie-style unmasking of the killer will be disappointed in this aspect of the story, which wraps up well before the actual movie does. Clearly, Haggis' main story is about the toll that the Iraq War -- and, by extension, all battles, especially those (like Iraq) created for bogus reasons -- takes not only on the soldiers sent to participate in the bloodshed but also on their families and friends. For all his surface simplicity, Hank Deerfield is a complicated and conflicted individual, a conservative patriot who would never question the military but who can sense that its ideals, along with those of the country he loves, have changed since his time of service. Even more daringly (and likely to spark debates among war vets), Haggis' film attempts to depict the manner in which the specter of war can follow a soldier back to civilization and inform every subsequent decision and action. Conveying that is a near-impossible task for any moviemaker to pull off, but Haggis should be saluted for taking it further than most.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, the Julie Taymor film scored to a catalogue of Beatles tunes, has yet to reach local movie houses, but in the meantime, here's Feast of Love to offer its own interpretation of one classic Fab Four tune: "All You Need Is Love."

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