In the middle of Daniele Thompson's Avenue Montaigne, I turned to my wife and said, "French filmmakers always make Paris look so gorgeous." Insightful as always, she replied, "That's because Paris is so gorgeous." And it's a telling point that Paris' beauty and not the evocation of the characters will last longest in my memory of Thompson's picture. Otherwise, the film is breezy and contrived in equal parts, a faintly sour confection that melts away like whipped cream in your mouth.
Avenue Montaigne is the story of non-Parisian ingnue Jessica (Cecile de France) and all the fab people she meets when she moves to the city. De France is 32, but in her pixie haircut and with her galumphy body movements, Jessica seems about 19. Just a kid who doesn't even know what she's looking for. Fresh off the Metro and without a place to live, she lands a waitressing job at a bistro in the arts district. A grand concert hall, a theater and an art gallery surround the bar, and Jessica's duties soon include making deliveries to the various luminaries who work there.
Rehearsing for a sold-out recital is classical pianist Jean-Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel), a performer in such demand that he's booked solid for the next six years. He is, unfortunately, not happy. Rehearsing the revival of a Feydeau farce is popular television actress Catherine Versen (Valerie Lemercier). She is, unfortunately, not happy. Being installed at the gallery is an exhibit of the sculptures and paintings amassed by collector Jacques Grumber (Claude Brasseur), who isn't happy either but has a plan for getting that way. Jessica is our witness as these three people grope, stumble or bull their way through their problems.
Jean-Francois stands at the pinnacle of his profession and asks, is this all there is to being massively talented, world famous, fabulously rich and married to a devoted, beautiful wife. Jean-Francois likes to rehearse in a T-shirt that shows off his pumped biceps, and he hates having to go white tie for his performances. Moreover, he dreams of getting out of the rat race of rehearse, perform, listen to applause, cash huge checks, live in plush hotels and then do the same thing all over again. He wants to just go live by a lake and give music lessons to poor children. Of course, he could do those things and be rich and famous, but he doesn't want to. His wife Valentine (Laura Morante), who is his manager, loves him with all her heart, but if he doesn't stop his stupid whining, she just may divorce him.
Catherine is so busy she has to take cat naps in the limousine that shuttles her from one job to the next. Her soap is France's top-rated television program. She's also doing a film. And, of course, there's the Feydeau production just about to open. But where's the respect she deserves? Everybody always calls her soap a soap, and it actually isn't. Not really. Moreover, whatever possessed her to do Feydeau? Does anyone take him seriously? Did anyone ever take him seriously? And now she's heard that Brian Sobinski (Sydney Pollack) is in town scouting locations and holding auditions for a movie about Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Sobinski is even considering Monica Bellucci. Does Sobinski even know who Catherine is? Why can't he see that she'd be perfect for de Beauvoir? Perfect! Bellucci? Ridiculous. Life is so unfair.
Yes, Jacques knows that life is unfair. Didn't he love his wife more than life itself? But isn't she dead? Didn't they pull themselves up from the working class, driving a cab, working in a factory, to become the owners of businesses and the collectors of works by Modigliani, Matisse, Braque and Brancusi? What's with art? Life is now, and life is short. Sure he's got a mistress (Annelise Hesme) now who is as beautiful as Monica Bellucci and young enough to be his daughter. Why shouldn't he? Yes, of course, she's a gold digger. So what? He's got gold, and he's going to get more by selling every artwork he owns. Raspberries to anyone who questions what he's doing. And that goes for his son Frederic (Christopher Thompson) perhaps especially.
In sum, we don't meet a flock of people here we find ourselves urgent to care about. Jessica is sweet enough. But she's a blank slate. Jean-Francois' crisis seems ridiculous. Catherine is such a narcissist we can't stand her. And if part of Jacques' attitude seems defensible enough, he's so pugnacious we can't care much about him either. I'll concede that all of this is executed with so light a hand we are nudged not to take the characters or their neuroses too seriously. But whereas that may serve to diminish our irritation, it doesn't much increase our affection. But oh that city in the background. Ah, Paris.
- 2007 THINKfilm
- Jessica (Cecile de France) moves to Paris and gets swept up in the grand successes and petty dissatisfactions of the art scene of Avenue Montaigne .