Avenue Montaigne (France, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Sometimes movies don't have to be complicated. They don't have to "say" anything or espouse a particular philosophy. There doesn't have to be a deeper meaning beyond exploring slices in the lives of several unpretentious characters. Such is the case with director/co-writer Danièle Thompson's Avenue Montaigne, a French "comedy" that follows the interaction of a young girl in the lives of three people and how, at times inadvertently, she changes them. The film uses effective acting, deft dialogue, and a sly wit to entertain, if not educate.

The use of the term "comedy" to describe Avenue Montaigne needs clarification. This is not one of those wacky French farces that causes much of the world to think the French have lost their minds. It's a more subdued form of comedy with a closer kinship to what Hollywood might consider to be light drama than comedy. There are some amusing sequences but the "laugh out loud" moments are minimized (or, depending on your sense of humor, missing altogether). In developing her characters and establishing their circumstances, Thompson (whose previous credits include writing and directing Jet Lag and writing Cousin, Cousine) may tickle a funny bone or two, but that's not her primary goal.

Most of the action centers on a Parisian café nestled across the street from an art gallery, a concert hall, and a theater. It is to this establishment that Jessica (Cécil De France) comes in search of work. She's new to Paris and needs employment. Meanwhile, in the theater, famous TV actress Catherine Versen (Valérie Lemercier) is rehearsing for a play that is scheduled to open shortly. In the concert hall, famed pianist Jean-François Lefort (Albert Dupontel) is undergoing a mid-life crisis: he wants to stop touring and "settle down," much to the horror of his wife, Valentine (Laura Morante). Finally, in the art gallery, an old man (Claude Brasseur) is preparing to auction an art collection he amassed over his entire life while reconciling with his son, Frédéric (Christopher Thompson, who co-wrote the film with his director mother). Gradually, Jessica touches all their lives. A chance meeting with Lefort impels him to make a decision. She inadvertently gains Catherine an interview with a prestigious American director (Sydney Pollack). And she provides a sympathetic ear for Frédéric while admiring his father's collection. In the process, the uncultured Jessica learns a few things about art, music, and theater.

Avenue Montaigne is an opportunity for a variety of actors to show off their wares. Cécil De France, who is a rising star in France, gives a jaunty, airy performance as Jessica, whose guilelessness is prized by those with whom she comes into contact. (This is a different side of the actress than horror fans may recall from High Tension.) Veterans Albert Dupontel, Claude Brasseur, and Laura Morante provide solid, although not remarkable, portrayals. The standout is Valérie Lemercier, whose high strung Catherine is a delight to behold and provides most of the film's genuinely comedic moments. Sydney Pollack has a small part as an American filmmaker trying to cast a French actress for a big budget movie about Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Avenue Montaigne is a typical mild mannered French comedy and, as such, will be easily embraced by those who enjoy such productions and avoided by those who find these to be effective sleep aids (unless that is the desire). Pleasant is perhaps the best word to describe the film. It entertains while it lasts, does not overstay its welcome (1:45 feels just about right), and provides reasonable closure to all the storylines. There's no heavy-handed moralizing or insight into the greater mysteries of life. (And, for a French film, the sex is kept to a minimum.) Avenue Montaigne will not make many converts to this genre of French cinema but neither will it disappoint those who are already in that camp.

Avenue Montaigne (France, 2006)

Run Time: 1:46
U.S. Release Date: 2007-02-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: English subtitled French
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1