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Brushes With Greatness
BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
AVENUE MONTAIGNE: Directed by Danièle Thompson. Written by Danièle Thompson and Christopher Thompson. Starring Cécile de France, Valérie Lemercier, Claude Brasseur, Albert Dupontel, Laura Morante, Sydney Pollack and Christopher Thompson. THINKFilm, 2007. PG-13. 100 minutes. In French and English with English subtitles.
Once upon a time, maybe, more romantic comedies were like Avenue Montaigne.The film’s humor is a gentle thing, built more in small moments than belly laughs and pratfalls. As for romance, Avenue Montaigne take a wonderful and welcome tack: It gives nearly as much weight to an established relationship under strain as it does a new one just begun to bloom.
|Cécile de France and Christopher Thompson in Avenue Montaigne|
The film’s center is Jessica (Cécile de France), a pixiesh young woman who charms her way into a waitressing job at a café on the titular avenue. The café sits in a cultural nexus, near a theater, a concert hall and an auction house. Jessica’s a small-town girl with a woe-is-me story that doesn’t seem to bring her any woe. Smiling brightly, innocently inserting herself into any nearby conversation, Jessica winds up crossing paths with some of the café’s most celebrated patrons: an actress and the director she hopes will hire her; an art aficionado selling his life’s collection; the collector’s son; and a concert pianist, tired of the classical grind, whose changing priorities are driving his wife batty.
Jessica befriends some of these folks; others, she meets only a few times in the three days during which Avenue Montaigne takes place — three days leading up to a cluster of meaningful events for everyone involved. De France is the heart of the film, the naïve connector whose untrained eye gives each privileged character a glimpse of what his or her world looks like from the outside. But she’s bumped aside for the film’s three-part climax, which brings other pairs together, saving Jessica’s own romance for the very end. Montaigne‘s chief flaw is that it dances around the difficult parts of forming connections, too often showing us the moments just before or after two people truly click — resulting in a few romantic clichés, as when our heroine falls for someone she appears to barely know. But the film carefully and intriguingly rubs up against questions of art and life, love and desire, and the cast’s deft performances (particularly by de France and Valérie Lemercier as the mercurial actress) bring charm and depth to the most well-off, seemingly enviable characters. Avenue Montaigne walks a delicate path between slight and thoughtful, funny and sweet. It’s a welcome break from American “rom-coms” that are, well, neither.