- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

Not since “Amelie” has a Paris waitress had such a delightful effect on those around her. Comparisons between that successful 2001 French import and “Avenue Montaigne” (“Fauteuils d’orchestre”), the new film from director Daniele Thompson (“Jet Lag”), are inevitable. The similarities, however, are only skin deep.

The new movie isn’t likely to become the international hit that was “Amelie.” But this charming film is a witty look at dissatisfaction that, while less enchanting, is more down to earth than its predecessor.

The film opens as the sun comes up on Paris, the first of many wonderful vistas of the city. Jessica (Cecile De France), a young woman from the provinces, is trying her luck in the capital after personal and professional failures.

She offers her services as a waitress at a popular cafe on the ritzy Avenue Montaigne. Here, the masses mix with the masters. It’s the sort of place to which “millionaires come when they’re bored with room service,” as manager Marcel (Francois Rollin) tells her.

Marcel only hires men. But he gives Jessica a trial run because he’s short staffed just before the area will see the premiere of a play, a concert and an art auction all in one day. The film follows the preparation of those three events while Jessica serves up food, drink and sometimes a helping hand.

Jessica gets closest to Frederic (Christopher Thompson, co-writer and son of the director), whom she inadvertently discovers once had an affair with Valerie (Annelise Hesme), his father Jacques’ (Claude Brasseur) trophy girlfriend. But what really upsets the son is that his father is auctioning off a lifetime’s worth of art he collected with his now-deceased wife.

Jean-Francois (Albert Dupontel) is also disgruntled. He’s a world-famous pianist who feels trapped by life on the road. “If you want to quit being a waitress, everybody will understand,” he tells Jessica. “But a concert pianist, nobody understands.” If he throws his fame away, he may lose his beloved wife with it. Valentine (Laura Morante) gave up everything — her own career and a chance at children — to manage the career her husband no longer wants.

Most of “Avenue Montaigne’s” humor comes from Catherine (Valerie Lemercier), the star of a much-loved, slightly high-toned daytime soap. She’s rehearsing a Feydeau farce on the stage, but longs to turn serious in American director Brian’s (Sydney Pollack) upcoming film about Simone de Beauvoir.

Every actor in this ensemble cast puts in good work, but Miss Lemercier steals the show as the actress who verges on insanity as she pursues poor put-upon Mr. Pollack.

Miss De France holds everything together as the bewitching waitress, but thankfully, she’s no saint. She learns a lot — and also teaches a lot — about dissatisfaction during her apprenticeship in Paris. When her boss claims he has his own problems, she protests, “You’re not even a pianist or an actor or rich.” The director shows us that not even fate’s fortunates can avoid discontent.

***

TITLE: “Avenue Montaigne” (“Fauteuils d’orchestre”)

RATING: PG-13 (some strong language and brief sexuality)

CREDITS: Directed by Daniele Thompson. Written by Christopher Thompson and Mrs. Thompson. In French with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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