"Avenue Montaigne" is one of those films that manages to warm your heart and make your day, even if it isn't grande cinema. For me, there's always that once in a while where you get a film that's entertaining and funny, and "Avenue Montaigne" is just that. It has the vibrancy of a Technicolor Godard movie from the '60s, along with a sweet sense of humor that sets an artistic but frothy tone (which isn't a bad thing at all). The stories, all intertwining, are enjoyable and simple. It's like a Robert Altman ensemble comedy minus the irony or complicated dialogue-- and it's a lot breezier. You could say "Avenue Montaigne" is as lovely as the city it takes place in: Paris.
The film revolves around Jessica (Cecilé de France), an optimistic young woman who moves to Paris from the small town of Mâcon, hoping to get a fresh start. While the first few days are hard for her (she doesn't manage to find a place to live or a job), she eventually gets a job at a stylish café. Because her new job is in the heart of an artistic community, through her job she meets a handful of people that are going through big changes in their lives.
There's Jean-François (Albert Dupontel), a celebrated concert pianist who wants nothing more than to quit big, classical music concerts; there's aging actress Catherine (Valérie Lemercier), who's stuck doing a soap opera and a limiting play when she wants to be a film actress; and then there's Jacques (Claude Brasseur), an art collector that's dying while also trying to reconnect with his son (Christopher Thompson). By the end, everything is resolved, and it makes us feel happy that everything works out.
The cast of "Avenue Montaigne" seems to be having a good time-- whether or not their character is shallow or nice, everyone gives it their all with a lot of pay off. If we didn't have a cast as dedicated and charismatic as this one, would the film be the same? I don't think so. But it's a delight to watch everyone bustling around, just figuring out life; and while this could be boring, none of the stories every sag. In films with multiple stories like this one, there always should be one that isn't as good as the other ... but that isn't the case here. All of them are equally entertaining and fun, and it's great how something so good-natured and sweet can be predictable without being cloying.
Much of it is enjoyable; I loved seeing the goofy, slight bonkers but old Claudie (Dani) lip-synch to old French songs while reliving her past, and when Catherine defies her play director and changes the play she's starring in into the way she wants to-- on opening night. But there are also quite a few poetic moments, as when Jessica stands with melancholy in the rain, looking into the atmosphere, or when Jean-François plays the piano for a group of sickly hospital patients. "Avenue Montaigne" hits the combination of dramatic and funny perfectly, to the point where it's sincere and quite touching.
The key to the film though, is France. Though there are certainly a few standouts here, especially Lemercier, France carries the movie. I've always really liked her-- her pixie hair, crooked smile and curious eyes make her an intriguing beauty, and she maintains to be lovable in nearly all her films. This one shows her at her best. Her spirited and likable characterization of Jessica serves not only as a connector to all of the stories involved, but as the most winning part of the film.
"Avenue Montaigne" may be fluffy, but it's good fluff. It's never sappy; it moves along with energy and slight wit that amuse us more than it should.