Avenue Montaigne

2006, Movie, NR, 106 mins

Review

AVENUE MONTAIGNE | FAUTEUILS D?ORCHESTRE
starstarstarstar
Director Daniele Thompson's high-class soap opera, cowritten with her son, actor-screenwriter Christopher, unfolds almost entirely within a couple of blocks of Paris' glittering Avenue Montaigne, a deluxe enclave of fashion, theater and art.
Sunny, provincial Jessica (Cecile De France) comes to Paris with little more than a backpack and her grandmother's blessing — beloved "Meme" (Suzanne Flon), satisfied her own taste for the lush life by working in high-end hotels and restaurants, and has encouraged her granddaughter to get out and do the same. Fate delivers Jessica to the Avenue Montaigne's modest Cafe des Theatres at the moment its cranky owner, who's never before hired a waitress, finds himself down two waiters with three events about to open simultaneously across the street — a recital by a world-famous pianist, a new production of Feydeau farce and an auction of 20th-century masterworks. He gives her a chance and tosses her into the thick of Paris' bustling arts community, from stars to stage managers.
Jessica delivers breakfast to world-famous pianist Jean-Fran├žois Lefort (Albert Dupontel), who wants to abandon the suffocating white-tie circuit over the objections of his wife and manager, Valentine (Laura Morante), who put her own career on hold to support his. She serves neurotic actress Catherine Versen (Valerie Lemercier) who hates the TV show that's made her rich and is pursuing the part of Simone de Beauvoir in an American director's (Sydney Pollack) upcoming film while rehearsing a musty Feydeau farce. She crosses paths with aging, self-made millionaire Jacques Grumberg (Claude Brasseur), who's preparing to auction off the modern masterpieces he and his late wife collected during their long marriage, and with Grumberg's sour son, Frederic (Thompson), whose marriage is falling apart and who once had an affair with his father's new mistress, genial gold-digger Valerie (Annelise Hesme). She charms them all with her gamine naivete and Candide-like willingness to believe the best of people, and in the hands of a less unsentimental actress, Jessica would be insufferable. But De France finds the hint of sadness beneath the ready smile and knows how to play genuine, self-effacing goodness, as in the scenes where Jessica half-listens to Meme's oft-told tales. "No, you didn't tell me about that," she murmurs gently, grateful for the familiar rhythms she knows will one day stop. Thompson's stories are just as familiar, but she weaves them together with such assurance and good humor that they're equally soothing and thoroughly enjoyable. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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