Paris Can Wait

This feels like a European-style movie.  First-time Director and writer Eleanor Coppola (at the age of 80!) presents us with an old-school kind of “teaser romance”:  where nothing really happens, except what may be going on in the minds of the characters, that they’re not saying, and maybe what speculation the viewer might enjoy.  There’s no sex, no nudity, no foul language, no violence, no fantasy sci-fi, no animation, no CGI:  just a very small, modest narrative about a man and a woman who find themselves thrown together for a while, and enjoying each other’s company more than they’d like to admit.

Anne (Diane Lane) is an attractive, stylish, fiftyish American woman married to a successful film producer, Michael (Alec Baldwin), who cares for her, but he’s very busy, and very stressed.  She’d decided to go with him on this European trip, since their only child, a daughter, had just gone off to college, and she was kind of at loose ends.  But an ear infection kept her from getting on the plane to Morocco with him.  No worries, his French business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), was driving back to Paris, anyway, and he’d be happy to take her along.  Problem solved.

But Jacques, it seems, is the textbook Frenchman:  very interested and knowledgeable about French wine and cuisine, and French history, and anxious to introduce his American traveler to some of the out-of-the-way gourmet restaurants that she wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.  Jacques seems to have friends everywhere.  He’s a bachelor, never been married, no kids, but does have a nephew he dotes on.  Jacques will stop along the way to pick up roses.  And chocolates.  And ear drops for Anne.  He drives an old Peugeot convertible, and loves listening to Mozart, and driving with the top down, to take in the fresh air of the Bordeaux countryside.

Anne and Michael are calling each other regularly, but he’s always breathlessly telling her about the latest crisis on the movie set, while she’s luxuriating in quaint roadside cafes, and once, when the car breaks down, having an impromptu picnic along the Seine.  (Jacques just happened to have brought along a fine selection of wine, cheese, and grapes). The narrative is from her point of view, including much untranslated French dialogue, where she just has to kind of figure out the gist of what’s being said.

Yes, she is flattered by all the attention, and charmed by his cosmopolitan company.  But is this going to jeopardize a 20-year marriage?

Director Coppola, yes, the wife of Francis Ford Coppola, says that she spent the first part of her life making a home for her husband and children, as she felt she was expected to do.  She casts Anne as someone who’s enjoying just getting out and seeing the world a bit, as if she were-----a slightly bored homemaker whose last chickadee just flew the nest.   Not exactly naughty, but at the very least, feeling free to spread the wings and fly a little bit.  But not, like Icarus, too close to the sun.

The pacing is very deliberate, almost purposefully slow and easy----like Jacque himself.  It’s the kind of movie that could have been made in the 1940’s or 50’s, and we wouldn’t have known the difference. It’s not exactly exciting.  It plays happily on the subtle and sublime side.  It’s a definite change of pace.

Questions for Discussion:

1)                   What’s the most relaxing road trip you’ve ever taken?

2)                  Who’s the one person you would most want to be with on a long, leisurely drive through the countryside?

3)                  Besides write and direct a movie, what are you going to do at 80 that you’ve never done before?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association