Appellate Judge James A. Stewart just got a picture postcard from Paris. Naturally, he popped it into his DVD player.
"You have to take risks, Jessica. I pushed my way in. And you know, Jessica, I had a wonderful life."
French filmmaker Daniele Thompson must remember, because she sent another cute-as-a-button French woman out into the Paris streets to get involved in people's lives.
Facts of the Case
As Jessica (Cecile De France, Around The World in 80 Days) wheels her aging grandma around, the elder woman tells her granddaughter how she got a job as a chambermaid at the Ritz because she loved luxury. Soon, Jessica is in Paris, following in her grandmother's footsteps.
She takes a job at the Bar des Theatres, a small bistro frequented by stars like Alain Delon (he's in Airport '79 but only mentioned in this one) and ordinary people alike. "We're a microcosm," snooty boss Marcel (Francois Rollin) tells Jessica. She's also warned about talking too much to the famous folks who wander in, but soon she's involved in the lives of Catherine (Valerie Lemercier, Sabrina), an actress on a soapy TV show who's tackling a stage production and hopes to land a plum movie role; Lefort (Albert Dupontel, Dead Man's Hand), a concert pianist who's considering a career change; and Jacques Grumberg (Claude Brasseur, The Seven Deadly Sins), an art collector who's auctioning off his collection; and Grumberg's son Frederic (Christopher Thompson, The Count of Monte Cristo).
Everything comes together on one busy night for the bistro and the neighborhood; Catherine makes her stage debut, Lefort gives a solo performance that nobody will forget, and the Grumberg collection is auctioned off.
Originally titled Faueteuils d'orchestre (or Orchestra Seats), Thompson's movie was released stateside earlier this year with a more picture-postcard friendly moniker: Avenue Montaigne.
If you're creating your own double bills on DVD, Avenue Montaigne is the ideal B-feature with the Peter Mayle picture postcard, A Good Year. Both movies celebrate the beauty of France, although Montaigne trades vineyards and quaint town squares for stunning, sweeping shots of the City of Lights at night. With so many beautiful city scenes, you'd think Avenue Montaigne was produced by the Paris tourism folks.
I enjoyed Avenue Montaigne, rarely guffawing at its humor but often smiling. I also got caught up in the atmosphere of the glittering city and the French tunes that fill the background. Still, it's a slight movie that's always predictable. I knew quickly where Jessica would find romance; I was thinking, "What took you so long?," when she finally kissed him at the 73-minute mark. Moreover, I could easily figure out where the lives of all her new friends were headed.
Cecile De France actually looks cuter and sweeter than Audrey Tautou, and has a wonderfully expressive face. She makes scenes funny and charming, like the one in which Lefort guides Jessica through a rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to show her that she indeed knows something about classical music (It's Mozart!). It's also hard to resist the charm of seeing her in an expensive hotel, ordering only a grapefruit juice. De France shows off her shapely legs with a miniskirt, which was alluring until I realized that she's almost always wearing the same clothes and I hadn't seen her visit a laundromat.
Sydney Pollack, who directed Sabrina, appears as moviemaker Brian Sobinski. This let Daniele Thompson make one English-language scene, in which Catherine tries to convince him she's the right woman to play Sartre's lover in a biopic. This was the scene that ended up in the English-language Avenue Montaigne trailer found on the DVD. It's a funny scene, but were they trying to hide the fact that it's a subtitled foreign film? The subtitles were well-done, but I wished they wouldn't have put them right on the movie; there is a black bar at the top and the bottom, after all.
The cinematography is splendid as it showcases Paris, looking down on the grand Avenue Montaigne, following Jessica as she window shops, and panning the city at night. The soundtrack filled with songs that say Paris (except for the rock 'n' roll ringtone that chimes in at inappropriate times from Catherine's cell phone) is fully realized in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.
There's no commentary, but there's a 25-minute film, "The Making of Avenue Montaigne," that features Daniele Thompson on the set. The best parts show Albert Dupontel's training in faking skill at the piano and the instructions given to the extras in the auction scene.
Since the film ran slightly longer than indicated on the back of the DVD case, I believe this to be the original French version rather than the slightly cut American release. I'll also note that there's a lot of profanity in the subtitles for a sweet little film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I said it in my review of A Good Year and it goes double here: There's more dramatic tension in a segment of Rachael Ray's $40 a Day. If you're looking for excitement, deep characterization, or much more beyond pretty pictures and a likable cast, Avenue Montaigne will be unsatisfying. If you're the sort who's longed to see Rachael run short of funds and dine on ketchup soup, you could find it excruciating.
Getting to reality checks, Jessica apparently wanders the city at night a lot without even a hint of danger creeping into the fairytale world of Avenue Montaigne. She must have the constitution of Jack Bauer as well, since she rarely seems sleepy.
If you liked A Good Year, you'll probably like Avenue Montaigne. With its travelogue take on Paris, it's a nice way to while away an evening. Even so, it's unlikely you'll find anything compelling about Jessica's adventures in Paris.
How could you convict a charmer like Cecile De France of anything? Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• The Making of Avenue Montaigne
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