Saturday, April 14, 2007

Not A Review Avenue Montaigne (Fauteuils d'orchestre)

Picture above is from the French original which is already out on DVD there.

Rated PG-13

1 hr 46 mins

Going to see this movie happened purely by chance, only because I happened to have the radio on while working out and heard Bob Mondello, the resident film critic on NPR’s “All Things Considered” reviewing this movie. An audio link to his review is here. *A* had also heard the review as she was driving home that same day and as she started to tell me about it, we realized this was a movie we would both enjoy.

I tend to also love a lot of things French so when this movie started to show at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, there was no hesitation on our part. We saw it last weekend, but I did not get a chance to write about it till last night.

The movie has been described variously as a “breezy romp” or a “cute and bubbly French comedy”, that is true but it is also has subtle underpinnings that let us draw a few larger life lessons should we choose to look at it this way. Either ways it’s a pleasant, sunny kind of a movie.

More about the movie –

The name of the movie for us non-French speaking plebes is “Avenue Montaigne”, the original French name is Fauteuils d'orchestre (which translates to Orchestra seats). The name Avenue Montaigne, is that of a famous street in the 8th arrondisement of Paris. However this is not just any street, this street has a bevy of stores such as Dior, Chanel and Valentino, as well as jewelers like Bulgari and other establishments such as the Plaza Athénée hotel. It is along this street that the lives of the wealthy and the not so wealthy, those in romance and out of it, the artsy and not so artsy, the ones who live in luxury and those that only manage to work in it intersect. Also present at this intersection is the wide eyed Jessica (Cecille De France) who touches the lives of this myriad people.

This movie has many characters and also a number of narratives for all of them. The director Danielle Thompson (co-screenwriter) manages to connect all these different threads very well while still imparting life to all her characters at the same time. It is something she seems to have done effortlessly.

A place where all these different folks from various walks of life gather is a bistro called Brasserie des theaters. It is here that Jessica works as a temporary waitress hired to tide over the shortage of hands in the bistro around the big cultural evening at this mecca of high fashion and the arts. She has also recently arrived in Paris, in search of a life of her own just like her grandmother (Suzanne Flon). Like her grandmother she can only afford to work in luxury and not live in it.

A number of interesting and engaging characters fill out this lovely little movie. There is an art collector Jacques Grumberg (Claude Brasseur) whose current trappings conceal the humble beginnings of his life. He has brought all his art to auction off on that big night. His beloved wife of many years is no more and he is now confronting his own mortality as well as his estrangement with his son Frederic (played by Christopher Thompson who also happens to be the director Danielle’s son).

There is also concert pianist (Albert Dupontel) who is close to a meltdown with his busy concert life spent in hotels and performance hall around the world managed by his wife (Laura Morante). There is Catherine Versen (Valérie Lemercier) an overworked soap opera actress who is desperately trying to impress director Brian Sobinski (Sydney Pollack) in an effort to get to play more serious roles especially in his next film. Then there is the close to retirement theatre concierge Claudie (Dani) who is famous in her own right.

Jessica and the lives of all these characters will come in to contact with each other as she runs errands and serves some of these characters in the bistro. It is here that we see the rich and famous to be as human as the rest of us. If this is supposed to feel all saccharine sweet and even artificial it actually is not. The director does a wonderful job of fleshing out the humanity of these characters and their hopes and aspirations. Perhaps Jessica is meant to be envious of them and their lifestyles and yet learn that they are as vulnerable as the rest of us.

The varied cast does a fabulous job of keeping us entertained and engaged. There are some great lines in the movie including one where Jacques is reminiscing about life and talks about how he and his wife were like two beavers. They collected art as a way to stave of boredom from their lives and he uses beavers damming a river as a metaphor.

There are some more good lines in the movie that I unfortunately cannot recall. The other thing I loved about this movie was the great music. I should qualify this statement by mentioning that I am no connoisseur of classical music but the piano pieces were a delight to listen to. Claudie is often seen in the movie listening to French music on her headphones and I could not identify what that was but it just sounded marvelous, I am going to have to figure out a way of getting hold of the music from this movie. The other pleasant surprise was the charming Cecille De France who we have seen in two other lovely movies Russian Dolls and Auberge espagnole.

The movie is funny, charming, intelligent and poignant and makes for a most wonderful viewing and how can a movie that talks about art, culture, food, life and love not be fun?


Lotus Reads said...

Sanjay, thank you for yet another lovely review and great movie recommendation! Yes, French cinema has a lot of fans. Owing to our large Francophone population here in Canada we have some fairly decent French film festivals, if you and *A* are fans, you two should try and make it to one of them. You just missed the "CineFranco" Festival in Toronto, it wound up on April 01st and yes, "Avenue Montaigne" was part of the line-up. I can send you a list of the other movies featured if it interests you.

Coming back to the movie, I love how it sounds and will try my best to see it when it comes to a cinema near me.

Sanjay said...

Lotus, you are most welcome and thank you again for your comment.
I was not fully aware of how Francophone your part of the world is. The proximity to Quebec should have told me that d'oh! :-)

That is a good idea about trying to make it for one of those festivals.
Would you mind sending me a list of the other movies featured? Thanks so much.

Do try to watch it when it comes to a movie house close to you, you wll love it. Hope you are having a good weekend.

Sai said...

As always a wonderful review!

Orchid said...

Thanks for the review....I look forward to these now, so I can update my list...haven't watched a French movie since Amelie?? I think!

Ash said...

Nice review, must check it out!

ML said...

A great review, as usual, Sanjay! Thanks!

Mona Buonanotte said...

Mmm...wonderful! You should do movie writeups for money, Jay!

Carrie said...

Sounds interesting.

Sanjay said...

@Sai. Thank you.

@Orchid. If you liked Amelie you will surely like this one.

@Ash. Thanks. Guess you are back to blogging?

@Ml. Thank you.

@Mona.. Thanks. I still think I do my day job a lot better. :)

Keshi said...

good review ty Sanjay!


iz said...

Dude, where do you get the time to do s much with your life. OK I just answered my own question, you're not lazy like some bloggers we ahem know.

Anonymous said...

Viewed this movie today...and fell in love with the piano playing and the french music. Is there any way to obtain the names and composers?
Many thanks,

Anonymous said...

I have been searching for a CD of the music from this movie - it certainly should be available, but I can't find one. Anyone know anything about this?

krus said...

i would also love a cd from this movie
anyone have any news ??? ;-)