Cecile De France, Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, and Laura Morante star in a film written by Christopher and Danile Thompson and directed by Danile Thompson.
Almost like annual clockwork, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival programs a bit of French fluff to appease those film fans who like sweets with their bitters, cinematically speaking. This year’s model was Avenue Montaigne, France’s bid for the foreign film Oscar. It was one of those hot tickets, and was hard to get into during the festival, but worth the effort and destined to find its way back to town on the general art house circuit.
What angst does filter into the machinery of the film comes in the form of artists with charming insecurities who work in various shades of misery and mediums, but are joined by topography. Avenue Montaigne is a hip Parisian neighborhood, home to a loosely connected clutch of artists lost in their own worlds: A famous classical pianist is verging on a nervous breakdown or a major career shift, a frustrated soap operatic actress yearns for a serious role, and an art collector ponders de-accessioning his collection, partly egged on by life’s mortal egg timer.
Linking these various egos is our charming protagonist, the guileless and agenda-free waitress at the central cafe meeting place, Jessica (Cecile De France), whose job supplies ample meeting time with the assorted temperamental artists on the block. She lends a sympathetic ear and criss-crosses disparate worlds between delivering cafe goods. Casual existential comments drop into the dialogue, as when the elderly art collector shrugs “at a certain point, time passing becomes time remaining.” Sydney Pollack makes a strange cameo, as a director coaxing an actress into a pet project, but he seems out of place, mainly there because of who he is.
Neurotic but loveable personalities aside, the film functions best as a leisurely, gentle portrait of a culturally buzzing street. It’s a microcosmic, rueful French comedy about artistic neuroses, mortality, and c’est la vie fatality. At times, it feels like a soap opera itself, but usually manages to stay in the realm of the discreetly charming.