With Paris Can Wait, Eleanor Coppola draws upon what she knows, setting her first narrative feature against the backdrop of the world’s most famous film festival. Her characters, movie producer Michael Lockwood (Alec Baldwin) and his wife Anne (Diane Lane), have travelled to France to attend the Cannes Film Festival, with a planned sojourn in Paris afterwards. But then their situation changes, leaving Anne to journey to the French capital by road with Michael’s producing partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard).
Paris Can Wait doesn’t claim to be a true story; however, it does find a basis in reality in more ways than one. Attending the festival with her husband Francis Ford Coppola in 2009, Eleanor was due to head to Budapest with him afterwards, only to fall ill. One of his colleagues offered to drive her to Paris instead, and a three-day trip was the result – as well as wine, food, gorgeous scenery and contemplating new horizons. From that experience, Paris Can Wait was born.
Even without finding a new lease on life while road-tripping across France, it’s still a film that Coppola was uniquely positioned to write, direct and produce. Married to Francis Ford for 56 years, mother to filmmakers Sofia Coppola and Roman Coppola, and aunt to actors Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman, her family name is virtually synonymous with cinema. And, from Francis Ford’s two Palme d’Ors for The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, to Sofia’s best director win for The Beguiled, her family are no strangers to showcasing their latest wares on the Croisette.
Cementing the family connection, Cage was reportedly originally slated to star in Paris Can Wait, only to be replaced by Baldwin. The change doesn’t make as big a difference as it might seem, because this isn’t a film about a famed movie producer – it’s about the woman who has always been at his side.
Eleanor was 73 when she found inspiration on the journey between Cannes and Paris. At the age of 80, she attended Paris Can Wait’s premiere at another prestigious cinema showcase, the Toronto International Film Festival. Making her non-documentary filmmaking debut as an octogenarian is an impressive feat; however it was also a second coming for Eleanor, arriving 25 years after she wowed audiences in Cannes with documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
When, back in 1991, Eleanor delved into the making of Apocalypse Now, the world took notice. More than that, she won an Emmy Award and was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award for her efforts. Taking its name from Apocalypse Now’s source material, aka Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Eleanor’s documentary exposed the tough behind-the-scenes reality, as well as the fortitude it took on Francis Ford’s part to bring the troubled production to fruition. To film the documentary, Eleanor taught herself to use a 16-millimetre camera.
Apocalypse Now’s shoot, blowing out from five months to over a year, was notoriously difficult, plagued by everything from severe weather events, budget blowouts and logistical nightmares, to Marlon Brando’s erratic behaviour, Dennis Hopper’s mind-altering substances and Martin Sheen’s ill health, to the fact that the script didn’t have an ending. With Eleanor’s footage from the production interspersed with contemporary interviews, including with the cast, Hearts of Darkness became the essential warts-and-all chronicle. Her second companion piece to Apocalypse Now, diary Notes on the Making of Apocalypse, was released in 1995.
While it would take Eleanor a quarter of a century to make her next full-length film, those years established her as a keen observer of cinema production, especially within her own family. When Sofia made her filmmaking debut with The Virgin Suicides, Eleanor documented the experience, resulting in a 23-minute piece that includes interviews with Kirsten Dunst, Scott Glenn, Josh Hartnett, Kathleen Turner and author Jeffrey Eugenides.
After accompanying her daughter during Lost in Translation’s Tokyo shoot, Eleanor made a second behind-the-scenes documentary for Marie Antoinette. Next, she turned her gaze back to Francis Ford with 2007’s Francis Ford Coppola Directs John Grisham’s ‘The Rainmaker’ – as well as the hour-long TV documentary Coda: Thirty Years Later, about the making of Youth Without Youth.
Transitioning from family documentarian to bringing her own tales to the screen was the natural next step. Her narrative filmmaking debut does have a predecessor on the page, with 2008 memoir Notes on a Life chronicling exactly what one would expect. Of course, with Paris Can Wait, Eleanor could play with the details as she liked, and as she felt necessary for a light, breezy rom-com set in one of the most scenic corners of the world. She could also do what she’s watched her family achieve for decades – control her own narrative.
Paris Can Wait is streaming at SBS On Demand: