Avenue Montaigne (Fauteuils d'orchestre) Made in: France Language: French, English Director: Daniele Thompson Starring: Cecile de France, Valérie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Claude Brasseur, Laura Morante, Christopher Thompson, Dani, Sydney Pollack Year: 2006
Synopsis: Inspired by her grandmother, who "always loved luxury," hopeful and bubbly Jessica (Cecile de France) leaves her small hometown of Mâcon and heads to Paris. Struggling to find work, she lands a job waitressing at a small but upscale cafe called Le Bar des Théâtres.
Although the cafe doesn't hire women out of a long-standing tradition, she gets the job because the place is expected to be swamped due to multiple high-profile events happening nearby on Avenue Montaigne. The events are a major art auction, a large theatrical production, and a concert.
Jessica soon encounters several characters, each of whom are at the center of the aforementioned events, and all of whom are all facing life crises:
- Jean François Lefort (Albert Dupontel) is a world famous pianist who is growing weary of what he perceives to be the highly elitist attitude in the world of classical music performance. A life of constant traveling and rehearsals are suffocating him, and his wife Valentine (Laura Morante) has only made things worse by being the one dictating every detail of his professional life. At his wit's end, Jean François comes to the realization that his marriage has been based mainly on his success as a musician.
- Catherine Versen (Valérie Lemercier) is a popular soap opera star (whom Jessica's grandmother adores) who's sick of television and wants to make it as a serious film actress. She has agreed to star in a stage production in hopes of getting noticed, but might have some difficulty seeing that she's bipolar, completely neurotic, and a royal pain in the ass to deal with.
- Jacques (Claude Brasseur) is an elderly widower dying of cancer, and is auctioning off a vast art collection which has defined most of his life. At the same time, his relationship with Valérie (Annelise Hesme), a much younger woman, is further straining his relationship with his estranged son, Frédéric (Christopher Thompson). And to top it off, Frédéric has been having an extramarital affair with Valérie.
Jessica befriends all the characters, who all cross paths with each other as well. As the big night for each nears, all characters find themselves sharing soul-searching philosophies making facing life-changing decisions.
The Good: Avenue Montaigne is a light, relaxing film that makes Paris look gorgeous. Cecile de France is very likeable in this role, and the ensemble cast does a solid acting job. This is a foreign film that's easy to follow, and has a mainstream commercial appeal which manages to maintain a fair amount of substance without devolving into fluff.
The Bad: At times, however, Avenue Montaigne tries too hard to be a philosophical, inspiring feel-good movie. All the characters seemed self-consciously created and their story arcs, although well-timed, ultimately felt contrived.
Although Jessica is set up to be the protagonist, she later becomes a background character as the film alternates its focus on the other main players. The stories of each could have had been made into separate films, but because they were all jammed into one feature-length movie, there wasn't time to explore them all with sufficient depth. As a result, the whole thing almost went into too many directions.
Who would like this film: Avenue Montaigne is for you if you need proof that foreign films aren't all weird, pretentious, and impossible to understand. Even though it's in French, this movie should not be lost on anyone who's been exposed mainly to commercial films.
As good as Cecile de France is, I'd argue that Albert Dupontel and Laura Morante carry most of the film's weight. Psychologically, their story is the most compelling and I wished director Daniele Thompson could have concentrated on them more.
Avenue Montaigne is harmless and even endearing in some parts, but there are too many characters and situations going on. Without sufficient time to get to through all of them, the end result is unfortunately bland and barely satisfactory.