This American comedy-drama tells the story of a trip taken by the wife of a successful American movie producer in the company of a man she hasn’t met before. It is the writing-directing debut of Eleanor Coppola, who is 81 years of age. She is the wife of Francis Ford Coppola, and the mother of Sofia Coppola who won Best Director award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. The film is said to be based on a real-life encounter Eleanor Coppola had at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 when illness kept her from flying with her husband, and she accepted a road trip to Paris with her husband’s friend.
In the film, Anne (Diane Lane) is staying in Cannes with her husband, Michael (Alec Baldwin). Michael is a serious work-alcoholic and not very attentive to his wife. Anne has been married a long time, and she is struggling to find some kind of independence to reenergise her life. Prevented by illness from flying to Budapest, the suggestion is made that she go to Paris instead. Jacques (Arnaud Viard), a business friend of her husband, offers to drive her, and her husband agrees.
Jacques sets out with Anne, and detours along the way. He makes side-trips to restaurants that serve expensive food, samples the food and wine, and looks as if Paris will never get to be his final destination – thus explaining the meaning of the film’s title. Anne notices that Jacques is flirting with her, but both of them are clearly enjoying the places he takes her to. What should be a relatively short drive turns into a two day journey, discovering scenic places and fine food. Together, they explore French countryside and have elaborate meals in the best of restaurants that France can offer. On the trip, Jacques doesn’t have the money to pay for anything, and Anne ends up paying (until the trip ends) for what Jacques thinks she’d like.
The film lies somewhere between a romantic escapade and a French travelogue, but has an underlying dramatic current. It hints strongly about romance, but there is no conclusion that affirms it. All the time, Coppola raises possibilities of what might have been, and what might happen in the future, and intentionally holds back on resolution. Sorrow is explored for a lost child; personal secrets are shared together partly; there are hints of infidelity for Michael; and there are signs of casual promiscuity for Jacques. It is as if Coppola is saying to us that circumstances surrounding human behaviour are far too complex for us to be certain about ever fully explaining what we do.
On the trip, Anne is usually (but not always) content to let Jacques tell her what to eat, and Jacques unquestionably knows good food and wine. In this film, one learns much about the pleasures of escargots cooked just the right way, and the correct red wine to have with prosciutto and melon. The movie offers us Michelin-starred culinary delights on a road tour of scenic France – at this level, the film is charming, and very watchable, and Coppola directs it with an easy going style. The film is also very well photographed.
At the level of character drama, Diane Lane shows hints of sensuality, and Arnaud Viard cleverly is far too attentive, and there are signs of personal conflict as Anne and Jacques open themselves tentatively to the other’s scrutiny. When Jacques finally delivers Anne to Paris and gives her a possible date to meet later, we are left guessing what will actually happen in the future. The movie chooses always to stay at the edge of human emotions to emphasise life’s basic uncertainty.
The movie is an enjoyable one. With respect to scenery, and gastronomic delights, the film tells us a lot about picturesque France, and its shots of food are glorious. Anne’s feelings about Jacques remain hazy, and her self-discovery revelations stay promised, but not yet delivered. At both these levels, the movie is intelligent film-making by the matriarch of a highly distinguished family group.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting