Meeting French folk on the avenue

Posted: March 23, 2007

Avenue Montaigne was the French entry in the foreign-language competition at this year's Oscars (it didn't make the final cut). It's certainly not the best film to come out of the country last year, but it might be the politest.

A nice bonbon set in a posh Paris grid, the film - whose original title translates to Orchestra Seats - centers on a perky blond gamine (Cecile de France) who takes a job as a waitress in a little cafe. Situated in close proximity to a storied theater, a concert hall, a grand auction house, and several five-star hotels, the cafe is where actresses, musicians, wheeler-dealers and their respective flunkies grab a quick sandwich, or linger over espresso or wine.

Flitting about with an irresistible smile, the new serveuse Jessica gets to know some of these people. And, thus, so do we.

Written and directed by Daniele Thompson, Avenue Montaigne has a breezy, Altmanesque air, as it tracks the mini-dramas of its crisscrossing characters: a famed pianist in the throes of midlife crisis (Albert Dupontel); a popular TV star eager to perform more serious fare (Valerie Lemercier); an old gent selling off an amazing art collection (Claude Brasseur); his conflicted son (Christopher Thompson), and the mistress they had in common (Annelise Hesme). Sydney Pollack shows up as an American director preparing a biopic on Simone de Beauvoir, and the veteran star Dani plays a beloved theater concierge about to retire.

If Audrey Tautou had lost her way to the audition for Amelie, the wide-eyed de France could have filled her shoes nicely. It's easy to believe the self-absorbed Parisians who populate Avenue Montaigne would stop their narcissistic whining long enough to register the warmth and radiance emitted by this make-believe soul.

Avenue Montaigne **1/2 (out of four stars)

Written by Daniele Thompson and Christopher Thompson, directed by Daniele Thompson. With Cecile de France, Valerie Lemercier and Albert Dupontel. In French with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 46 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse and Ritz Sixteen/NJ

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or

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