Whit Stillman’s Parisian Café Society

Like a scene from one of his movies, the director talks cocktails and cinema.

In the Marais neighborhood, where I am meeting movie director Whit Stillman on an unseasonably sunny late afternoon, the terrace at La Chaise au Plafond is bustling with a vibrant joy at the first hints of spring.

Briefly tempted by one of the 18 red wines by the glass, I decide on a demi (a draft beer). Stillman orders a Perrier.

As it turns out, the small bistro where he’d offered to meet was one of the locales where he started to build his social life in Paris. Some twenty years ago, having just moved here with his marriage falling apart, he responded to screenwriter Max Frye’s invitation to join a Franco-American film group, and from there a circle of friends slowly grew.

It is easy to picture Stillman finding inspiration for his films in his new Parisian life. When asked how he met a certain extroverted friend, he replies, “I met him at Michael Edwards’, an older English writer type who would host these cocktail parties on the eve of Bastille Day and serve Pimm’scocktails, a very English thing. He had a magical little apartment at the prowl of the Ile Saint Louis, the type my French friends would say only an expat would have!”

Through his portrayal of the habits of Americans and American expats, Stillman’s body of work reveals a sort of sociology of drinking spanning the past several decades. “There are little markers about drinking that can define a character, a stage of life,” he says. For example, in The Last Days of Disco, Alice (Chloë Sevigny), is shocked when she realizes that ordering Vodka Tonics makes her a bit of a cliché—something that Stillman observed during his own early days of drinking and socializing. “At the end of the ‘60s, in my world, at first people had either a kind of Trader Vic’s fruit drink or a Gin &Tonic—not in…

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