Director: Eleanor Coppola/2017
Eleanor Coppola is the wife of famed director Francis Ford Coppola, a name that exists as royalty in Hollywood. Like her husband, she is also a filmmaker. Best known for documentaries, such as Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which covered the making of her husband’s Apocalypse Now, she has never directed a feature film, until now. At 80 years young, Mrs. Coppola is wading into the waters of feature film with a story that is extremely personal and heartfelt.
Mrs. Coppola came to Houston, Texas, my hometown, to screen the film for us, and even brought her own family vintage, for us to taste, and which paired nicely with our appetizers, prior to the screening. This was highly relevant as food and wine are almost a starring character in her film, Paris Can Wait. As she took the stage, she gave us some of the background on her life, her marriage, and the event that inspired this film. While certain changes to the real experiences she had were inevitable in order for story continuity, romantic intrigue, and narrative tension, almost everything you see on screen is deeply rooted in a real event that created a lifelong passion for Mrs. Coppola as it relates to France, and their indeliable panache for food and wine.
The film is a breath of fresh air for those willing to take the scenic routes to see and taste the unexpected treasures in the small towns that dot the landscape of the beautiful French countryside.
Diane Lane is Anne, the wife of successful Hollywood producer Michael, played by Alec Baldwin. As Michael is forced to diverge from their planned trip home, via Paris from the French Riviera, Anne decides to take the offer by Michael’s French colleague, Jacques, played by Arnaud Viard. What is supposed to be a car trip that only lasts a few hours, becomes a 2 day adventure of sampling all of the best that France has to offer, and rediscovery of living life to the full for Anne, who has become a third wheel in her own marriage, taking a backseat to the demands that the film industry places on her husband.
The film is a breath of fresh air for those willing to take the scenic routes to see and taste the unexpected treasures in the small towns that dot the landscape of the beautiful French countryside. The always-in-a-hurry aspect of American culture succumbs to the enjoy-every-moment-to-the-fullest ethos of the French. This is never more clearly seen as when there is food to be enjoyed, wine to be tasted, and conversation to be had. The film seems to be reminding a culture obsessed with technology and productivity, that we must put prioritize what is most important, relationships with each other. And what better way to facilitate such relationships, than with food and drink.
Arnaud Viard plays the quintessential Frenchman, who knows very well the keys to a woman’s heart, and who makes no secret that living in the moment takes precedent over such passé notions of marriage, or fidelity. This of course stands in contrast to the very ideals Anne holds on to, loving her husband in spite of her frustration with his commitment to work, as she is more than capable of holding this Frenchman’s advances at bay. But if they each represent opposing the opposing notions of constant movement and productivity vs. stopping to smell the roses, one of them will have to wear the other down. And these two types of approaches to life have much that they can learn from each other, just as Anne and Jacques have the chance to do on their journey. To demonstrate these opposing views of life, there is a running joke throughout the film of Anne constantly asking “how long until we are in Paris”, followed by updates she gives to her husband via phone calls, followed by Jacques’ standard answer of “Paris can wait”.
Eleanor Coppola takes her time to slow down our natural inclinations to rush through a story to get to the climax of the narrative, forcing us instead to experience this trip as Anne does: in a hurry to get to the destination, but learning along the way what it means to slow down and enjoy every part of life.
Following the screening, Mrs. Coppola fielded questions from the audience. One of the surprising aspects she relayed of making her first feature film was the challenge of making a summer film and finding the funding to make the film, especially when this film involves no superheroes, aliens, and the like. From that standpoint, it further cements the two opposing world views I’ve mentioned that exists in this film. For those entertained by the loud spectacle-based films of the typical Hollywood summer film, there is nothing wrong with that. But what I believe Mrs. Coppola would have you learn, especially through Paris Can Wait, is that why those can be fun, sometimes a film that takes you on a slow, methodical journey of self-discovery is equally important. For a culture destined to arrive at whatever journey we are on, we can metaphorically say, “Paris Can Wait“.