Avenue Montaigne (PG-13)
Kimball's Twin Peak
The French knew exactly what they were doing when they selected Avenue Montaigne as their official entry for consideration as the Academy Awards' Best Foreign-Language Film of 2006.
And even though their film didn't win it didn't even make the list as one of the final five nominees you've got to imagine the French were still pleased with the end result.
See, Avenue Montaigne, as whimsical and cutesy and conversational as it is, just wasn't the best foreign-language film of 2006. Not even close. But by simply offering it up as their choice, the French had made a crafty move. Now, thousands of extra eyes were going to be drawn to this film which, at its core, is as good an advertisement for tourism as any country could intentionally create.
From the opening credits, as the sun rises over downtown Paris, screenwriter-director Danile Thompson casts a romantic light over the city, and more specifically, over its hoity-toity arts district along Avenue Montaigne.
Here we find Jessica (Ccile de France), an adorably perky twentysomething from Macon, who has traveled to the city to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother. As her elder's primary caretaker, Jessica was constantly reminded of her grandmother's younger days, spent living and working as a young woman in Paris.
"I always loved luxury," Jessica's grandmother recalls in an opening scene voice-over. "But as I could not afford to live in it, I went to work in it."
With similar ambition, Jessica moves to Paris to find a job any job along the artsy Avenue Montaigne drag. When she happens into Bar Des Theatres, a restaurant located right in the thick of things, she is met with hesitance by the manager, who claims his restaurant has never before hired a woman. But because two of his servers are sick and because there's an auction, a concert and a play all about to start nearby, he hires Jessica.
In doing so, our main character gets thrust into the lives of the restaurant's patrons. And through her eyes, the street is seen as a small neighborhood, the highfalutin arts players its inhabitants and their issues the local gossip. There's Catherine (Valrie Lemercier), a TV and stage actress vying for her first major movie role; Jacques (Claude Brasseur) an art collector selling his lifelong collection; and Jean-Francois (Albert Dupontel), a concert pianist ready to give up his trade.
Because of her free-spirit ways, these luminaries are immediately drawn to Jessica. They feel comfortable around her and because she has no experience to tell her to feel otherwise, she feels the same around them.
And therein lies the charm of Avenue Montaigne. Here, greatness or, at least, perceived greatness has its guard down, allowing us to see that it's not all it's cracked up to be.
The problem's that there's a disconnect. The audience is supposed to see that greatness isn't so great, but none of the subplots are delved into deep enough for the audience to really care.
In fact, the only character for which the audience develops a caring mentality is the city itself. It's the only star, along with Jessica's, that never truly fades in this film.
Surely, that's why the French chose this film for the rest of the world to see. The glory of Paris, this film tells us, is forever strong, even when its inhabitants aren't. And, Academy Award or not, that's a winning message for the French to send.
And if that can come through in a decent-but-hardly-great film, that merits a "touch."