(THINKfilm) Cecilie de France, Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Sydney Pollack, Claude Brasseur, Christopher Thompson, Dani, Laura Morante, Suzanne Flon. Directed by Danielle Thompson
Life imitates art, it is often said but the reverse isn’t always true. From time to time, art – and the artists who make it – is completely at odds with reality.
Jessica (de France) is a wide-eyed innocent who was orphaned at age four and was raised by her delightful grandmother (Flon), who had a taste for luxury but unfortunately not the pocketbook for it. She contented herself by being a ladies room attendant at the Ritz Hotel, able to rub elbows with the very rich at least indirectly.
Now on her own, Jessica comes to Paris looking for a job but without much experience. She talks her way into a job as a waitress at a café on the Avenue Montaigne, a center of the arts in Paris. At the Bistro, the famous and the lowly come to eat from the stagehands and ushers to the stars of the theater and the concert hall across the street.
Three events are taking place three days from her first day; a recital by Jean-Francois Lefort, a world-famous classical pianist (Dupontel) who has grown weary of his lifestyle and yearns to play for a less discerning audience, despite the fact that his adoring wife and agent (Morante) has him booked for the next six years. There is also an art auction as a businessman and connoisseur named Jacques Grunberg (Brasseur) is selling off the contents of his former life, which irritates his estranged son Frederic (Thompson, the son of the director) who sees his father dating a much younger woman he once had an affair with (unbeknownst to the father) and leaving the legacy of his mother behind.
Finally, there is the performance of a farce at the theater starring Catherine (Lemercier), a star on a wildly popular soap who yearns for more substantial roles. She hopes she might get one in a biography of Simone de Beauvoir that an American director (Pollack) is putting together. Although the casting director for the film hates her, she still hopes she can win the director over.
Jessica moves in an out of their lives like a sprite, befriending the elderly concierge (Dani) who is retiring after the performances. With no place to live and knowing nobody, Jessica sleeps in the dressing room of the concert hall and befriends the performances so guilelessly that they can’t help but feel comfortable with her. But as things move towards the night of the performances, each performer feels the weight of their demons moving in. Can the show go on when the showman doesn’t have the will to perform any longer?
Director Thompson (Jet Lag) has crafted a typically charming slice of life in the French capital as it relates to the arts on the Avenue. This is not a love letter to Paris – although the beauty of the city is well on display, the movie takes it more as a matter of fact that you love Paris. And who wouldn’t? Even the neuroses are charming.
De France carries the movie effortlessly, a pixie in a sidewalk café who flits from situation to situation with enough pluck to make her adorable. Lemercier also captures the neurotic television star with the right mix of frenetic kinesis, nervous tics, self-loathing and blind ambition to make her believable, but with enough heart to make her worth caring about. Dupontel is also solid as a pianist who is a prisoner of his own talent and fame.
The one drawback is that it is hard to feel much sympathy for people who are so successful, so famous, so wealthy. Not that people with success, fame and wealth are without problems, but one must take them with a grain of salt.
There is also a subtext about the relationship between the young and the elderly, starting with Jessica and her grandmother but also including Jacques and his son and Jessica and the concierge. I actually kind of liked it; too often we dismiss the wisdom of our elders because of our own arrogance. The fact is we don’t freakin’ know it all.
Any movie that takes place in a French café had better be prepared to charm the pants off of you, and Avenue Montaigne accomplishes that. This isn’t something that is going to give you remarkable insight; rather it is a fluffy entertainment, a meringue if you will. Nothing wrong with that, so if you like your movies light and charming this just might be your ticket.
WHY RENT THIS: A delightful slice of Parisian life in the arts as seen by a wide-eyed innocent from the provinces. Some timely themes about ageism and class distinctions.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It is occasionally hard to feel sympathy for people who are successful and adored but are miserable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief sexuality and some salty language but otherwise fine for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actress Suzanne Flon passed away shortly after filming was completed. As the end credits begin, we see a tribute page to her with the actress, offscreen, repeating a line from earlier in the film stating that she had a good life.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Frozen River