While the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel battles Wonder Woman at the box office, moviegoers looking for something much different can find comfort with writer/director/producer Eleanor Coppola’s elegant art film Paris Can Wait, now playing at the UA East Hampton Cinema 6.
The narrative film directorial debut by the 81-year-old Coppola—the award-winning documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse—features a smart, lovely performance by Diane Lane (Under the Tuscan Sun), the go-to actress for playing troubled or unsettled Americans who redefine themselves while in Europe. Lane (who years ago made four movies with Eleanor’s husband Francis Ford Coppola) plays Anne, who, as the press notes state, “is at a crossroads in her life.” Married for years to a loving but inattentive movie producer (Hamptonite Alec Baldwin as Michael), she finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with his charming, flirtatious French business associate (Arnaud Viard as Jacques). “What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a journey of discovery involving mouthwatering meals, spectacular wines, and picturesque sights.”
Coppola and Lane gave this exclusive interview to Dan’s Papers when Paris Can Wait played at the recent Tribeca Film Festival.
Danny Peary: Diane, even now in Paris Can Wait, but particularly in your older films like Lady Beware, you have reminded me of my favorite all-time actress, Natalie Wood. Have other people drawn that comparison?
Diane Lane: Yes, that has been said to me. Although not for a while, because people in our profession don’t often hark back to Natalie Wood. But I really see it in my mother. She looks like she could be Natalie Wood’s sister.
DP: The “Log Line” in the press notes for Paris Can Wait describes Anne as “a devoted American wife with a workaholic inattentive [movie producer] husband (Alec Baldwin).” I question the word “devoted.” I see Anne as someone who had two huge moments in her life, both relating to babies, and for the other parts of her life, including her marriage, she seems to just go with the flow without real devotion there. Do you two think she’s devoted?
DL: (laughing) They didn’t clear it with us to assign that adjective. I apologize for the log line. I think you’re right. It might be the wrong choice of endless, alternative adjectives. What would you put in its place?
Eleanor Coppola: (laughing) I don’t know who wrote that line.
DP: In the interview with Eleanor that is included in the press notes, she identifies Anne as an Every Woman. But I don’t agree with that either! I see her as being full of surprises—she is a pro-quality amateur photographer, she knows how to fix a broken fan belt in Jacques’ car in a creative way, and she knows more about the last French church they go to than he, the expert on everything in France, does. So, Eleanor, do you see her as an Every Woman? Or in your eyes, are you saying every woman special?
EC: There is a routine in married life. It’s not good, it’s not bad. I didn’t want her husband, Michael, to be a monstrous guy, so that we’d think, “Of course, she’s going to run off with the French man.” She does love her husband, and he loves her, but they’re caught in that routine where they are just too busy to pay attention to each other. She also has been occupied by the fact that her daughter is leaving home. Now she’s at this moment when she doesn’t know exactly what her next step in life is, and she’s kind of turning to her husband. Hopefully, he’ll step in and encourage her and help her move forward, but he’s not doing that because he’s too distracted. So she sets off with this Frenchman expecting that they’ll arrive in Paris seven hours later and she’ll be back with her husband in their routine. But Jacques takes her out of the expected and on this journey where she finally has time to literally smell the roses she loves so much. He sees her and makes her feel that someone is paying attention to her.
DL: So she can see herself suddenly. Because maybe she’s been living for too long through the eyes of others. When Jacques sees her as something special, she thinks, “Maybe I’ll wake up and I can be a photographer. Maybe I won’t have to have a husband who is the only one doing important things.”
DP: How does Anne respond to all the compliments from Jacques? Are compliments something she expects when she’s alone with any man because of her looks, so she just brushes them off?
DL: Jacques is her husband’s business partner, so there is a propriety regarding that, as well as a cultural thing, so she sees there is a frame around their getting to know each other that is imposed on them. It’s not two strangers meeting on a train or the death of a marriage and a blooming of a romance. It’s none of that. She’s not across the channel, but is dealing with every little wave that you have to swim—you don’t look up and you’re not counting the waves, but you’re wondering how far you are from the shore and whether you’re swimming in the right direction. She wants to keep going and not question herself. But Jacques makes her question herself.
DP: How different would this trip be if she weren’t married to Michael?
EC: I guess I haven’t thought about it because the story I wanted to tell was of a woman who is married and it’s not a bad marriage. If it were a bad marriage, it would be a simple decision to run out the door. Her husband is flawed, the Frenchman is flawed. She finally realizes that in the next step of her life, she’s in charge and she is the one who has to make the choices on how she’s going to go forward.
DL: It’s true about the “empty nest” that it will require a sense of acknowledgment. There is a loss, there is grieving, there is the feeling of being outgrown and your child no longer needing you. You feel like chaff. It’s healthy and appropriate for them to be independent because you do give part of yourself that you would give only to children. Being a parent is the luckiest job in the world and is the most precious job in the world. Parents who get to spend time with their kids know this. But after they leave home, you have to adapt to a new life, and it takes a while.
EC: Diane recently had that experience herself, her daughter going off to college, so I felt she’d bring that to her character.
DP: I remember that day myself.
DL: It’s tough, right? They try to warn you, they try to tell you, but you can’t prepare for it.
EC: The marriage changes. Because so much of your relationship has been experienced through the lens the children. When they’re gone, you have to reignite your relationship.
DL: And redefine it.
DP: While Anne is traveling with Jacques, Michael keeps telling her by phone that they have to go on vacations together. Is she thinking that she wants to do that with him?
DL: She is the one asking for a vacation with him. He’s saying, “This will be it: you can come to work with me in this beautiful location.” She’s thinking, “I want your attention, I don’t care what the backdrop is.” She doesn’t say that as a quote in the movie, but this is clear to me having watched the movie. Because sometimes I’m serving each moment and then I see the film in its completion and have an “ah-ha” moment about the arc of the story. While making the movie, some of it, but not all of it, is for me to know. But seeing it as a member of the audience is different from me living each moment. When I watched it for the first time, I thought, “It’s quite plaintiff. I hear her clearly expecting something from her husband. And eventually he’s saying, “You know what? You’re right. Let’s go away together!”
DP: Will he be willing to do that ever?
DL: Well, that’s for the audience to decide.
DP: I’d think that you, Eleanor, would know best, because you’re married to a filmmaker who probably spends as much time as Michael talking on the phone about his projects.
EC: I think it’s a common, universal situation. The man is very devoted to his career, whatever that may be, but there are points in the woman’s life when she has to step away and decide what she has to do in regard to her own career.
DP: When you did the real trip with a French male friend that inspired this movie, did you, like Anne, take a lot of photos?
EC: That’s a little something I always did, take photos with all details. Making a fiction film, I could just put in anything that appealed to me. I had the freedom to have the character take photos and go to a textile museum. Who goes to a textile museum in a movie? Maybe in a documentary, but certainly not in a fiction film.
DP: I know you don’t consider yourself a total movie person, but I’m sure movie lovers are thankful to you for having Anne tour the Lumière Museum in Lyon.
EC: That’s great. I hope people will discover some things about France that they didn’t know. I got to add all those things that interested me, and that helped build this particular character.
DP: What did it say to you about her that there would be these magnificent panoramic views and she’d be taking pictures of minuscule things?
DL: I related to it because I, too—maybe like Rain Man or something!—like angles, like how things work together, I like the contrast of textures, I like the play of light, I like almost expressionist photography, if there is such a thing. So it made total sense to me that she would take photos of things that catch her eye. It’s so personal. I do paintings from my photographs sometimes, because they take me to a place or memory and remind me they were taken at moments when I was feeling appreciative of something. That she’s not taking cliché photographs of the postcard views says a couple of things about her. She’s been around, she’s seen a few things, she could buy a postcard but there’s something really personal about what’s speaking to her directly. It’s almost as if images are waving to her directly and she open to them.
DP: I’m sure people will pair this film with Under the Tuscan Sun. But would Anne, on the spur of the moment, buy a villa in France?
DL: They’re totally different. In Under the Tuscan Sun, my character’s life was just shattered by the reality of an unexpected divorce, so she’s reinventing herself, and with whatever money she has leftover she decides to put her flag on the moon, as it is, in a foreign country. That’s a very different setup than with this other broad abroad, who is somebody else’s wife taking a car ride to an intended destination that turns out to be something very different.
DP: Did you notice the parallels between Paris Can Wait and your wonderful debut film A Little Romance? In that film, your young girl meets a suave French boy [played by Thelonious Bernard], a Paris expert, and with a genial con man [played Laurence Olivier] travel to Venice. To me the boy and the con man combine into Jacques.
DL: I definitely see a Francophile thread linking both films!
DP: Eleanor, do you want viewers to decide whether they want Anne and Jacques to have a romance or do you want viewers to want her to push him away the whole movie?
EC: I want the audience to go back and forth. I didn’t want it to be spelled out for viewers in a clichéd way. At times, he’s very appealing and she might be leaning in that direction, but then he’ll do something that makes her see him as a charlatan, or whatever, and she’ll say, “No, no, no.” It’s going back and forth. He’s wooing her but then he does something that makes it seem impossible for him to appeal to her, but then he woos her some more. It’s clear that it’s not her life’s solution to go off with the Frenchman. She has to move forward in her life.
DP: Will she ever tell Michael what Jacques told her, that Michael gave the Rolex that Anne gave him to a young woman and lied to Anne that he lost it?
EC: I like that the audience will wonder about that. I don’t want to say.
DL: Hmm. Well, she’s empowered with the truth, and the truth always sets her free—but in what direction? She might say, “Well, okay, now I get to be this grandiose, forgiving person who understands the choice he made and why the secret was kept from me.” Or will she weaponized the situation? Information is power, so once you have that information, does it become weaponized or not? That’s a choice you have to make. I love this film in the same way I do Unfaithful because it allows you to ask yourself, “What if it were me? With what do I identify in this?” I also think about if it were reversed and it was somebody’s husband in the car with the woman. Would he just fall into the sack with her because he’s a man and we have lower expectations of him and boundaries? It would be very interesting. Everything is a litmus test in a way. I love the question: What would you do? Because on different days, you’d feel different ways.
Danny Peary has published 25 books on film and sports, including Cult Movies and Jackie Robinson in Quotes.