While Eleanor Coppola has been on the set of some of the greatest movies ever made, she makes her feature film directorial debut at the age of 80 with Paris Can Wait.

“It’s the flip-side of a documentary. I’ve been on film sets all my life,” Coppola says to Free Press Houston during a recent visit in town. She’s credited as director with two other filmmakers on the documentary about her husband Francis’ Apocalypse Now titled Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

“On a documentary you’re an observer. You’re looking for something interesting to happen. There more problems there are the better your documentary is. With fiction film it’s the flip. You’re trying to create something that will have a life,” says Coppola. “Every decision you make is reflected in what you shoot.”

For Paris Can Wait, Diane Lane plays a fictionalized version of Eleanor who finds herself on vacation in the South of France with her workaholic producer husband (wonderfully played by Alec Baldwin). Baldwin has to fly to Italy on business so Lane takes one starts out as a one day drive to Paris with family friend Jacques (played eloquently by actor/director Arnaud Viard). Lane herself has been in four films directed by Francis Coppola starting with The Outsiders (1983) and followed by Rumble Fish (also 1983), The Cotton Club (1984) and Jack (1996).

There’s a string of visual motifs in Paris Can Wait that suggest previous films by Francis Coppola like the journey itself (Apocalypse Now). When Viard’s Peugeot breaks down Lane substitutes a pair of pantyhose for a fan belt. A pantyhose gag was used in Peggy Sue Got Married, as well as a locket from the same movie. Lane’s character occasionally fidgets with a locket she wears. “That’s interesting, but that was not part of my conscious intent,” replies Coppola.pariscanwait_02

“Diane was so right for the part. It took us six years to find the financing.” Originally Lane turned down the part, but a year later when asked again she accepted. “She was so professional. She’s been acting since she was seven.”

A six-hour drive turns into a couple of days when Jacques insists they try a top-rated restaurant or stop at noted tourist attractions, like the Vézelay Abbey or the scenic Roman aqueducts in Vers-Pont-du-Gard. Another stop occurs at the Institut Lumiére museum in Lyons.

The relationship between Lane and Viard is platonic but there’s a sense of romance with the food and the various locales. Paris Can Wait breezes by like a day trip down your favorite country road. In the end you’ve learned a little about food and film history and a lot about human nature.

Paris Can Wait opens exclusively this weekend at the River Oaks Theatre.