Paris Can Wait: Je Souhaite, by David Bax

11 May

Having been married to a successful and well known filmmaker for over half a century, Eleanor Coppola, director of the new film Paris Can Wait, certainly knows her lead protagonist well. Anne (Diane Lane) is the wife of Michael (Alec Baldwin), a major movie producer. Coppola displays a clear familiarity with the way Anne’s social life is dictated by her husband’s work but also with the comfortable, luxurious life she leads. Some may balk at Paris Can Wait’s fusillade of extravagances but Coppola is aware enough to acknowledge how special they are while Lane balances Anne’s enjoyment of and familiarity with creature comforts.

It’s the end of the Cannes Film Festival and Anne and Michael are meant to be traveling briefly to Budapest, where Michael has business, before a vacation in Paris. Anne, though, has an earache and, when the pilot of the private jet informs her that the air pressure is likely to make the flight to Hungary quite painful for her, it is decided that she will instead be driven to Paris by Michael’s colleague, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), with Michael to meet up later. What’s meant to be daylong sojourn, though, soon turns into a multi-day, leisurely trip as Jacques repeatedly insists on stopping to enjoy the sites the wine and especially the food of the French countryside, all while remaining dangerously flirtatious.

In the early going, it begins to seems as if Coppola has intriguingly feminist ambitions. Time and time again, we are shown how Anne keeps going along with Jacques’ whims more than anything in an attempt to not rock the boat. For a while, at least, Paris Can Wait is an interesting tale of a woman held hostage by the politeness and decorum expected of her. That doesn’t last, though, and soon we see that she enjoys these detours despite her superficial objections. What the film thus sacrifices in intellectual delights, it gains in sensuous (and sensual) ones.

Jacques, who is as charming as he is bullheaded, insists that “Driving is the only way to see a country.” On this, he and I agree and so it came as no surprise to me that I was soon swept up in the rich and varied delights France and Coppola have to offer. There’s the countryside, the Roman ruins, the cathedrals, even a stop at the Lumiere Museum; but, above all, there’s the food. Through multi-course dinners of bread, cheese, wine, chocolate and meats or overwhelming tours down the aisles of a farmer’s market, Coppola’s presentation becomes as languid and epicurean as Anne and Jacques’ trip.

Hanging over everything with constant, dampening reminders in the form of phone calls, is the fact that Anne is married to someone other than Jacques. To the credit of Coppola (who also wrote the screenplay), Michael is not some cad or boor set up to make Anne’s and the audience’s choices easy. He’s certainly no less a scoundrel than Jacques. It’s just that Michael is very busy and he and Anne have been married for a very long time. Coppola illustrates the way small kindnesses can seem gigantic when they come from someone new. Anne’s hobby is photography. Taking pictures on her digital camera gives her joy and Michael respects that, even showing interest in seeing what she’s captured. But when Jacques looks at her photos, he sees what she sees and appreciates it. The difference is towering. Jacques likes to play games of make believe (“Let’s pretend we don’t know where we are going or even who we are”) and such prospects begin to look more and more enticing to Anne.

I wouldn’t dare reveal what, if anything, transpires between Anne and Jacques by the end. But, in some ways, it doesn’t really matter. For a couple of days, Anne gets to be somebody else, even if, in her case, that means changing things up from a life of conspicuous consumption to a leisurely life of conspicuous consumption. We get to watch her pretend while we, by proxy, do the same.

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