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The Reeler Blog

"It's Beautiful, But it's Harsh"

Actor/co-writer Christopher Thompson with Cecile de France in Avenue Montaigne (Photo: ThinkFilm)

I had a few words earlier this week with Danièle and Christopher Thompson, the mother-son duo whose third writing/directing/acting collaboration Avenue Montaigne opens today in New York. The film cross-breeds the ensemble structure of the pair's 1999 effort La Bûche with the breezy romantic comedy of 2002's Jet Lag, yielding the story of young Jessica (Cecile de France), a provincial girl who discovers a utopian Paris after moving there on little more than a whim. After landing a job in a café along the film's namesake thoroughfare, Jessica settles in as an observer and, eventually, a player in the lives of a wealthy art collector and his son (Claude Brasseur and Christopher Thompson), a classical pianist in crisis (Albert Dupontel) and a beloved soap star (Valerie Lemercier) vying for the role of Simone de Beauvoir in a film by a famous American director (Sydney Pollack).

The film takes place almost entirely in the cluster of the Hotel Plaza Athénée, Comédie des Champs Elysées Theatre and an adjoining auction house, with the nearby Bar Des Theatres providing the nexus for the characters whose lives unfold via floods of clever dialogue and not just a few meditations on their respective places in French culture. "This particular area, this block -- it's not even Avenue Montaigne, really," Danièle Thompson told me about the area's relation to the city and Paris cinema in general. "It's just a block. First of all, I liked the idea that it wasn't shown that often in films. You always see Montmarte, Saint-Germain, the Eiffel Tower. But that particular block wasn't filmed very often. It's true that I was very intrigued and charmed with the idea of dealing with Paris the way Woody Allen deals with New York, for instance, with these atmospheres that he does in Central Park or the museums or the delis -- those things he does in New York that I've always loved and which I'm sure were one of the influences behind (Avenue Montaigne). Paris is very important, you know, when Jessica comes up onto the roof and sees this view of the city; it's one moment where she feels so small."

"It has a lot to do with being a part of something," Christopher followed. "We all want to be a part of something where there's so much going on. There's this girl who comes here - who doesn't know anybody -- and suddenly her path crosses all of these wonderful and exotic people. This is her moment where she comes out on the roof, and sees that it's very much a big city around her, and there's a moment of extreme loneliness there -- which can happen a lot in the city."

In her pleasant turn as the pixieish naïf Jessica, de France reflects more optimism than blank-faced wonder -- and thankfully so, making Avenue Montaigne's otherwise self-obsessed characters a bit more palatable than they would be if they never had to face the young woman's open-minded reckoning. Danièle acknowledged the historic precedent of small-town-kid-in-the-city films from which she and her son drew, but also noted the mysterious subconscious influences they didn't rediscover until well after the film was finished. "It's fun to talk about them, because you really discover something deep down," she said. "And probably, Christopher and I have different ones. There's obviously Woody Allen, but then Roman Holiday and William Wyler. Billy Wilder did a lovely film called Love in the Afternoon, where Audrey Hepburn comes with her big cello every afternoon to see this very rich man. So many films come up."

"I think it's true what you were saying before about the provincial girl coming to the big city," Christopher said. "The title sequence, when we go through Paris? It's really about her -- eyes wide open, discovering this place that she's never seen. And it's not just the postcard aspect; it's her really seeing this and not being jaded at all. I drive past exactly where she is every day and never look at it. But sometimes you stop --"

"And look," Danièle said.

Christopher nodded. "And look. ... The title sequence for me is really that. There is a fairy-tale quality to the film, which is something we wanted to do. She's like this Tinkerbell character, and suddenly, when she's out on that roof, reality hits her. It's beautiful, but it's harsh."

Posted at February 16, 2007 12:09 PM

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