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Life and Art come together in Avenue Montaigne, a charming and accessible French export. Not too fluffy, not too deep — just right.
Jessica (Cecile De France), is a fresh-faced, young everygirl from the provinces, who, inspired by her grandmother’s stories of a youth spent working in the capitol’s most luxurious settings, talks her way into waitressing at a Parisian café that lies at the confluence of a famous concert hall, a ritzy theater and an auction house. As a result, we meet the clientele — a mixture of well heeled entertainers and minimum wage workers — through Jessica’s innocent eyes. To anyone on the outside looking in, her rich clients have perfect, care-free, enviable lives. But Jessica learns otherwise.
There is classical pianist Jean-Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel) who, thanks to his devoted wife (Laura Morante), is booked solid for the next decade. But the burnt out prodigy feels suffocated and just wants to get off of the merry-go-round of his never ending tours and play for the joy of it again. Adored actress Catherine Versen (Valerie Lemercier), who plays on a wildly popular television soap opera, may elicit sycophantic compliments from passersby wherever she goes, but she yearns to be taken seriously. When an influential American film director (Sydney Pollack), comes to town casting a forthcoming film on Jean-Paul Sartre, Catherine tries to ingratiate herself with mixed results. Self-made billionaire Jacques Grumberg (Claude Brasseur) is about to auction the art collection he's spent a lifetime collecting. Estranged from his intellectual son Frederic (Christopher Thompson, who co-scripted with his mother), and having a fling with a much younger woman, Jacques’ desire to part with his past is hiding a far more tragic secret.
The three stories — located within each of the three structures surrounding Jessica’s café on Avenue Montaigne — culminate on one night in which Jean-Francois has a meltdown during a classical concert, Catherine throws caution to the wind during the premiere of her new, ribald play, and Jacques auctions off the detritus of his life.
Avenue Montaigne is about chance and dissatisfaction. Despite the reality that we all yearn for something better, great success isn’t always all it is cracked up to be — sometimes the rich envy the lives the poor lead. Happiness and contentment is not the sole purview of the wealthy and famous.
Director Daniele Thompson has made a French Robert Altman film, with a luminous ensemble, multi-generational cast. Buoyant and satisfying, Avenue Montaigne does rely on a manufactured, contrived script, but it never seems to affect the film’s narrative or emotional momentum. With a Beethoven-heavy classical score and a jaunty French soundtrack, Avenue Montaigne is a bittersweet and consistently entertaining mainstream French comedy that has just enough existential angst to satisfy Francophiles but not too much to turn off the more squeamish American viewers.
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