Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: "Paris Can Wait"

Eleanor Coppola has seemingly had a full life, wife of Francis Ford and mother of Sophia and two others. Over the years she shot footage on their movie sets, which formed the spine of the landmark 1992 documentary, “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” and a few documentary shorts.

Now, at 81, Eleanor has written and directed her first feature film, “Paris Can Wait,” about an older woman going on an unexpected romantic adventure in France.

What a sheer delight -- the movie itself, and Coppola’s resounding affirmation that it’s never too late to chase dreams.

Diane Lane plays Anne, wife of Michael (Alec Baldwin), a powerful and distracted movie producer. They’re in France for vacation, but Michael spends most of his time on the phone dealing with a production in crisis in Morocco. The director wants a hundred camels for his scene, but the script calls for goats -- and Michael happens to know they work cheaper.

There’s clearly affection between them, but they’ve settled into a late middle age routine of not being fully present even when they’re around each other. They have a grown daughter in college, Anne recently closed up a dress shop when her partner moved away, and she’s standing on a precipice where she has to figure out what form the rest of her life is going to take.

Anne and Michael are supposed to fly to Budapest -- private jet, natch -- before returning to France to stay in a friend’s Paris apartment. But she develops an ear infection and the pilot warns the flight could be very painful for her. Michael’s producing partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), offers to drive her to Paris in his car instead.

Since it’s obvious Michael is not going to pay her any attention for the next few days, everyone agrees.

The French version of the road trip is very different from an American one. Jacques owns an ancient, temperamental two-seater. He likes to stop every hour or so to stretch legs, have a smoke and add coolant to the radiator. Anne notes that the first hourly stop actually happens after just 42 minutes.

Jacques is about Anne’s age, a charming bachelor who views flirtation as his civic duty as a Frenchman. He likes to point out landmarks and detail the history behind them. And he loves food, so their detours become destinations as they explore restaurants, grocers, cafes.

They talk a lot about how different the French and Americans are, but without a sense of enmity. To Jacques, it’s perfectly natural to spend two days on a drive that should take a few hours, or to consume everything in life that appeals, without guilt.

“We eat what we enjoy,” he says, clearly inferencing more than just food.

Anne grows gradually suspicious. Is Jacques just toying, or putting moves on her? Frantic phone calls from Michael indicate he’s worried it’s the latter. “Frenchmen have no scruples about married women,” he growls.

There are other concerns. Jacques is having trouble with his credit card, so Anne must pay for everything with a promise of reimbursement when they reach Paris. He also seems to know -- and be known by -- pretty women everywhere they stop.

He’s not especially handsome: thinning gray hair, turkey neck and a paunch. But there’s something about the twinkle in his eye and kind voice, speaking so lightly he barely seems to touch the consonants.

Lane positively glows in the film, playing a woman who’s smart and savvy, but a little unsure of herself. She likes to take photographs of everything she encounters, especially food and fabrics, extreme closeups that suggest the greater whole. The vivid, colorful cinematography by Crystel Fournier is just stunning.

They keep traveling, and Paris never seems to get any closer.

Like “My Dinner with Andre,” “Paris Can Wait” is an entire movie about a conversation, though in this case one that moves all around. Will Anne’s life change after her excursion with Jacques? There’s always time to explore.

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