Review by: Larry Thomas
Every now and again it's possible to wander into a movie theatre and completely
fall in love with the action on the screen. Occasionally, it can happen with an
American film, although rare, especially since Billy Wilder died. The British
and Australians have also been known turn out such films. However, the French
seem to have the knack to not only make good films in general, but also to sometimes
give us something magical. It happened in 1964 with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
It happened a few years ago with Amelie. And it's happening now
with Avenue Montaigne.
Directed with great flair by Danielle Thompson, and co-written by her son Christopher,
who also acts in the film, Avenue Montaigne is a real charmer. Jessica is a
young girl raised by her beloved Grandmother to believe she can do anything
she wants. She applies for a serving position at a trendy Parisian bar and restaurant.
The maitre d' tells her they don't hire women servers, but with
March 17th coming up, they are shorthanded, so he gives her a trial run. What's
the significance of March 17th? Three major events are occurring simultaneously
in the adjacent venues: a concert by a world-renowned pianist, an auction in
which an art collector is selling off his most impressive collection, much to
the chagrin of his cranky son, and the opening of a Georges Feydeau play with
a famous TV soap star in the lead, who hopes to advance her career with the
switch to stage. And there's also the theatre concierge who's on
the eve of her retirement, but still roams the facility listening to her iPod
and lip-synching pop tunes by the likes of Gilbert Becaud and Jacques Brel.
These intertwining stories, and how Jessica... young, vibrant, and with
a winning smile... crosses paths with these divergent individuals is the
essence of the screenplay.
The pianist is a magnificent talent, but is quite tired of the fame and pomposity
of classical music. However, if he chucks it all, he may lose his wife, who
is also his manager. The art collector has remarried a younger woman following
the death of his wife, which has estranged him from his son. Selling off his
art collection does not help their father-son relationship. And the actress
is hoping for a miracle in the presence of a famous director in the audience
on opening night. If these story arcs sound trite and familiar, they are averted
from falling into the expected categories by terrific performances, fluid direction,
sharp editing, and a wonderful score by Italian composer Nicola Piovani.
Cecile De France, a talented charmer, plays Jessica, able to make every character
she encounters pleased to know her. Her grandmother is veteran Suzanne Flon,
who made a big International splash in 1952 when she co-starred in John Huston's
Moulin Rouge. M. Grumberg the elder is Claude Brasseur, a French film
favorite for many years, with roles in such films as Georges Franju's
Eyes Without a Face and Marcel Ophuls Banana Peel. The co-writer,
Christopher Thompson, is fine as the younger Mr. Grumberg.
And like any good French film, it's also a love letter to Paris. The
few exterior shots are enough to make anyone want to visit... or perhaps
even live... there.
The major puzzlement is why the American release title is Avenue Montaigne,
when the literal French translation is Orchestra Seats. But, who cares, as long
as audiences flock to see this film no matter what it's called.
Granted, some may think Avenue Montaigne is pure fluff, and to some extent
it is. But is that necessarily bad? Sometimes charming fluff with good characters
and excellent filmmaking is a wonderful antidote for real life. And the French
are darn good at it.