Danièle Thompson’s “Avenue Montaigne” is her third directorial outing (preceded by La Bûche and Jet Lag/Décolage horaire) and is a breath of fresh air in a market of CGI studded films and empty romantic sex comedies. It tells the tale of a charming young woman, Jessica, who leaves her small province to come to Paris to experience life’s adventures. She gets hired for a waiting job at the old-fashioned Café des Arts on the fabled Avenue Montaigne, which is Paris’ nexus for art, music, theater and fashion. There, she meets a variety of characters which include a depressed Classical Pianist (passionately played by Albert Dupontel), a dissatisfied TV actress (Valerie Lemercier), a liquidating art collector (Claude Brasseur) and his estranged son (Christopher Thompson, son of Danièle Thompson) who all somehow get intrigued by this small-town country girl and lay all their problems on her.
Avenue Montaigne basically deals with how someone without any worldly knowledge can affect so many worldly people, much like the story of the mouse and the lion. Cecil de France’s performance as the pivotal character is fresh and giddy without being annoying. This is also due to Danièle and Christopher Thompson’s development of the script that makes this affection so moderately noticeable; most other screenplays might make the same type of character more animated. The other performances are well balanced under Thompson’s direction. The cinematography of Paris under the eye of Jean-Marc Fabre is also gratifying. The original score by Nicola Piovani (Academy Award Winner for “Life is Beautiful”) cups the film and increases the romanticism of Paris, giving the feeling of an Italian film. This was Danièle Thompson’s intention. “There was something I loved in Italian Film,” Thompson states. “The Italians have the incredible ability to make films and music that are very funny and very sad at the same time.” The film also has a wonderful collection of songs featuring Edith Piaf, The Beatles and Gilbert Becaud— the latter being lip-synched by Claudie Dani as the theater concierge who is about to retire. These provide perhaps the film’s happiest moments.
By the way, “Avenue Montaigne” doesn’t take itself too seriously, with the exception of the scenes of Jean Francois the pianist and his Italian wife, which are intense and somehow create a balance in the film. The homeless scenes of Jessica were also wonderful; an indication of what might be possible for a young, scared girl.
There is much more to the film: budding romance and reconciliation. But I so highly recommend the film that I want you the reader to see it, so I will not delve too much into the story. Try to avoid any spoilers and you will not be disappointed. “Avenue Montaigne” was France’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar.