The lead “citizen” review for “Avenue Montaigne” says: “This is very glossy mainstream French stuff; could do well with the older US art-house crowd,” Chris Knipp Well, that’s ME! Though admittedly it’s a hard identity to maintain in Valier. Thank goodness for Netflix! (I often look up the critics -- be warned. This one is a very rarified and sophisticated print maker in San Francisco, so he knows his art houses.)
“Avenue Montaigne” has a totally different title in France. (It’s a French movie.) Never mind. You won’t need the French version here. Actually it’s a Leslie Caron gamine movie, nearly a musical except for not so much dancing. If Leslie Caron sang, this would be a Leslie Caron movie. Or maybe Audrey Hepburn, though she’s not quite so bouyant. Cecile de France has the key part. One reviewer says she looks like Jean Seberg, but I was thinking of that little sprite who played Peter Pan -- the one who had a bad eye. Sandy . . .? You could also call this an Eiffel Tower movie, if you think of that structure encrusted with twinkling lights, like an expensive store at Christmas.
The plot is three-pronged and interwoven around the theme of people who are at the top of their game to the naked cultural eye, but who actually crave something different, something more, mostly because they ARE at the top of their game. Such feelings are not controllable by outside forces, but -- one might say -- come from the heart. An aging art collector is selling his fine collection (you’ll recognize them), the concert pianist wants to play for plain citizens, and the comedy actress is ready to get serious. “Jessica” wanders among them wide-eyed.
It’s real and it’s not. Who cares? The sets are beautiful, the repartée is fast and funny, the people are appealing. I do not know whether French directors have to pander to producers as much as they do in the USA, but if they do, the producers appear to have much better educations as well as much higher expectations of their audience. I just watched “Earthsea” over again with the director’s voice-over on, and was even more determined to warn everyone away. This guy, asked by the Sci-Fi channel to direct a delicate, informed, Jungian, philosophical fantasy instead refers to Errol Flynn with dragons, which he thinks are animals. And male. He can't tell Ariadne's thread from Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs. Clearly, he didn’t bother to read the books. As if it would have mattered to him. He’s only about himself.
There’s more magic in the glass box of a cafe where Jessica works for a week or so, couch-surfing through the lives of the charming and driven. Since this is a French film, all the women are slender and intelligent and all the men are scruffy and full of angst.
The world of arts is a world of performers, who are always a bit different onstage than they are in real life, where they are often tired. This film recognizes the people who surround and support performers, whether they are mistresses or waitresses. Churches are not so different, nor are universities.
One of the key characters is “Claudie” played by “Dani.” (Investigating her, I find “Pigalle, la nuit”, a current French series and that led to plain “Pigalle” a dark movie from 1994. The first is not on Netflix but the second is.) Claudie is a “concierge” which means she fills in everywhere, knows everything, sweeps the stage, takes in the lost and bruised, gives foot massages. With her scarlet hair, startling eyes, and buck teeth she reminds us that the backstage people are often more interesting than the stars. But she has wanted to be a singer and is never without her iPod, lustily singing along with her favorites. I think I’ll take her for a role model. Without the iPod. Well, maybe if it had a lot of opera mp3’s on it.
The truth is that a film is not the same from one person to another and isn’t meant to be. Maybe to one person it is an expansion of the world, to another it’s ideas for the future, and to a third it’s just escapism. Trivial, light-hearted stuff can strike home to the open heart. Listening to my circle of constant readers, I notice that they choose books the same way most people choose movies: they listen to friend recommendations, feel popularity is a good sign, don’t much read reviews. But I enjoy a far more solitary and exotic sort of venture, lily-padding through the electronic resources, following names of actors or directors, staying well clear of the mainstream, being grateful that subtitles are so much more clearer to read than they used to be (all those little yellow fonts), and hoping that someday, maybe, I will suddenly be able to understand French.
I think one reason I like dark, gloomy films is that they don’t talk very much. When they do, it’s likely to be short sentences that are made perfectly obvious by what’s happening. Avenue Montaigne is an exception, but I loved that they went back and forth between languages sometimes. Sydney Pollack only ventured a little way into French. His performance was not a “stretch,” but casting was pretty much “le type.”
If you want to look for more films by this director, here is a list. They’re all on Netflix. I won’t watch the goofy one. Putting in these titles will get you a list of movies the computer thinks are similar. Their formula has a lot of trouble with me. It keeps hopefully suggesting what was most popular last week in Great Falls -- mostly stuff about guys brain-damaged by high school football who have become superheros endangered by massive explosions -- possibly from their own rear ends. I’m sure the director of “Earthsea” would love them.
La Reine Margot (romantic tragedy), The Mad Adventures of “Rabbi” Jacob (goofy), Those Who Love me Can Take the Train (dark). Change of Plans (comedy of manners). Jet Lag (romantic predicament). La Buche (most like Avenue Montaigne).