AVENUE MONTAIGNE centers around Jessica (Cecile de France) a beautiful young woman from the provinces who comes to Paris and lands a job waiting tables at a chic bistro on fabled Avenue Montaigne, the city's nexus for art, music, theater and fashion. Jessica's customers include a popular TV actress (Valerie Lemercier) who is courting a major Hollywood director (Sydney Pollack) for her first serious film role; a wealthy art collector (Claude Brasseur) who is about to liquidate a lifetime's worth of treasures at auction; and an illustrious classical pianist (Albert Dupontel) who is at odds with his manager/wife (Laura Morante) as to where his career is headed. Precisely because Jessica doesn't know how celebrated these people are, her guileless and completely unintimidated engagement in their lives has a transforming effect on them - and ultimately her.
French for "Orchestra Seats," Avenue Montaigne
offers an outsider's perspective on an insular world (the original title is Fauteuils d'Orchestre
). After bidding adieu to her grandmother (Suzanne Flon in her final performance), sunny Jessica (Cécile De France, L'Auberge Espagnole
) moves from Mâcon to Paris. Upon securing a job as a waitress in a popular café, she meets high-strung soap star Catherine (Valérie Lemercier), burnt-out pianist Jean-François (Albert Dupontel), and secretive art collector Jacques (Claude Brasseur), who comes equipped with a pretty girlfriend and a handsome son (Christopher Thompson). Though the tousled Jessica has little in common with these posh Parisians, she affects each of their lives in ways both big and small. Directed by Danièle Thompson (La Bûche
) and co-written with her son, Christopher, Avenue Montaigne
serves as the flipside to French phenomenon When the Cat's Away
, in which a young woman meets the people in her neighborhood while searching for an errant feline. In this case, the surroundings are more upscale, but the residents are just as susceptible to fear and insecurity. Though the idea of a sympathetic look at the upper class will surely strike some as off-putting, Thompson makes it work. The genuine affection she feels for her characters--privileged and underprivileged alike--and the grace with which she keeps several plot strands going at once proves that the spirit of Robert Altman lives on in the most unlikely of places. --Kathleen C. Fennessy