Eleanor Coppola’s gentle Paris Can Wait may not say anything new about Paris, waiting or relationships, but driving across France is always a delight.
The documentary filmmaker, making her first narrative film at age 81, takes us on a journey of people coming to terms with what life brings. This light soufflé of a movie teases at every turn that more may happen between two people who find themselves making a spontaneous car trip from Cannes to Paris. Yes, the weather is lovely and the scenery inviting. Yes, Diane Lane — as the neglected wife of a filmmaker — covers up the hurt she must feel. And, yes, Arnaud Viard charms as a helpful Frenchman who happens to work with Lane’s husband, have an available seat in his car, and free time to drive her to Paris when her husband needs to be elsewhere.
Such a convenient framework could generate a predictable film. But Coppola has learned, in her years of documentary directing, how to find real stories that people live. She embeds her characters with enough that feels authentic to make us believe this fictional story could actually happen. And she avoids the predictable turns that new filmmakers often make. We are saved from those small world incidents or big world problems that conveniently give people in movies items to discuss. Instead we share a few days with two people who, under other circumstances, might be inclined to travel a different road together. But Coppola suggests what could happen rather than overwhelm her slight but delicious film with circumstances to explain.
So we are treated, in the 92-minute running time, to a series of lovely locales where Lane and Viard explore what it takes for relationships to work. Their ongoing conversation, occasionally interrupted for delicious food, gravitates from the superficial to the meaningful, the obvious to the suggested. As adults looking for fulfillment at mid points in their lives, Lane and Viard ponder the possibilities people can experience. As they slowly reveal private thoughts usually saved for individual silence, we sense their relief to find someone to share with. Still Coppola resists any temptation to let the film or the relationship travel too fast. She takes the gentle, nuanced route to Paris. Not the superhighway.
For Diane Lane, the film reminds us how moving she can be, especially when exploring the subtleties of how people think and relate. She captures the intimacy this lady seeks without overplaying the sentiment she tries to avoid. Lane fills her performance with quiet moments that imply more than proclaim. Few traditional layers define her portrayal. She’s quiet. Nuanced. And every second works because the actress knows how to underplay.
Visually, Paris Can Wait is a wonder, with France’s beautiful countryside a lovely backdrop. And Coppola, a lifelong photographer, perfectly composes each shot as if creating a rich collection of images. The director brings years of work on film to a new narrative opportunity. And, as a newcomer at a later age, she reminds us that we’re never finished as long as there is one more movie to make. Or see.
(Paris Can Wait is rated PG for “thematic elements, smoking and some language.” The film runs 92 minutes. Four Popcorn Buckets. To read more about movies, check out The Reel Dad and This Week’s Movie Menu at arts.hersam-acorn.com.)
‘Film Nutritional Value’:
Paris Can Wait
- Content: High. Documentary moviemaker Eleanor Coppola focuses her first narrative film on the possibilities that two people explore while driving from Cannes to Paris.
- Entertainment: High. Diane Lane captivates in a lovely performance that reveals the subtleties, agendas and pressures that can define relationships.
- Message: High. Anyone who savors the opportunity to enjoy beautiful scenery, lovely looking food and wine, and delectable performances should see this entertaining movie.
- Relevance: High. Any opportunity to visit France, in person and on film, is welcome.
- Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children can share this film for its entertainment as well as the opportunity it may prompt to discuss relationships.
Paris Can Wait prompts a fresh look at before midnight
by Mark Schumann
The Reel Dad
The nuance that fills Eleanor Coppola’s lovely Paris Can Wait suggests what a talented filmmaker can accomplish when focusing on how characters feel rather than how explosions can destroy. And how good it feels when a movie treats adults like adults.
As I savored each moment of Coppola’s movie I kept thinking of an equally satisfying exploration of the subtleties of relationships, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third film in his trilogy about how people care, love, hate and resist. Perhaps like Paris Can Wait, Linklater’s film is so smart in its approach, and authentic in its characters, that we feel invited to share real moments with real people rather than observe staged situations the filmmakers may create. And it’s set in France, too.
Before Midnight takes us to the heart of a complex and caring relationship between a husband and wife who, sometimes, let life get in the way of how they love. As they handle jobs, raise children and juggle extended families, they confront a universal challenge: How do we prevent the details of our lives from robbing us of the joys of our lives? And how do we make sure that our schedules don’t overwhelm our priorities?
What makes this journey special is how Linklater — with collaborators Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke — chartered this relationship on film for almost 20 years. Their first film, Before Sunrise in 1995, reveals two young people eager to experience life and naïve about its demands. Their lack of maturity injects tension into a relationship that, from the start, offers promise. Nine years later, in Before Sunset (from 2004), they rediscover each other, now mature enough to recognize the patterns of youth without, necessarily, the skills to navigate. The new film, again set nine years later, finds the married couple living in Paris, raising twins and juggling the pressures of people living lives more serious than, perhaps, they ever intended.
While most films are a series of sequences, this trilogy thrives on extended cuts of lengthy conversations that seem lifted from life. Nothing in the films feels staged; the filmmakers invite us to eavesdrop on these characters. Rather than give the film a stilted “reality show” feel, however, this approach makes us feel we know these people. And, nine years after our last visit, Before Midnight makes us glad to reunite.
The film begins with a simple yet complex conversation between husband and wife as they drive with their twins. What begins as casual chit-chat soon becomes, as each dares to be candid, a revelation of the gaps the relationship must overcome. The truth, humor and layers of conversation immediately fill in any story points we need to follow. As the film progresses and we spend time with these characters, we easily see how, in our lives, we permit what we do to fill our days to get in the way of what we want to experience in our days. Without exaggeration, Linklater helps us see ourselves as we experience lovely people who may not always recognize their limits.
Hawke and Delpy are sublime. He brings a layer of thwarted ambition to a man whose carefree approach to life may limit what he can accomplish. She conveys the balance of priority of many a mother, someone who dearly cares for her children while trying to keep the family together. Her performance teaches us about how over-scheduling the calendar can overtax the heart. Hawke and Delpy make us believe these people exist and will, again soon, invite us to share another chapter.
In a summer that will be filled with sequels, computer-generated visuals, and unnecessary 3-D movies, Before Midnight reminds us what film can accomplish when the creators trust what the audience can believe. Just like Paris Can Wait.
(Before Midnight, from 2013, is rated R for “sexual content, nudity and language.” The film, running 109 minutes, is available for online streaming.)