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June 3, 2007

Movie Review – Avenue Montaigne (2007)


Avenue Montaigne opens with a scenic drive through Paris, prominently featuring the Eiffel Tower. It is an apropos beginning for a French feel good comedy set in the Paris of beauty, culture and neurotic artistes.

The story takes place over the course of a few days and on one city block in the arts quarter. It boasts a large cast of characters, organized into four tangentially connected groups, each with its own plotline.

One group is an aging collector of modern art, his trophy mistress and his unhappy son. Their plotline revolves around an auction of the art collection, with reflections on mortality and love.

A neurotic middle-aged actress and various people connected to her compose a second group. During the day she is in rehearsals for a farce, with opening night just a couple of days away, and at night is filming episodes of a popular and absurdly melodramatic soap opera in which she stars. Mixed in is her rabid desire to win the role of Simone Beauvoir in an arthouse film, and her attempts to win over the American director (as essayed by Sydney Pollack, one of the highlights of the film). As you may have surmised, her plotline is broadly comic.

A third group focuses on a burned out concert pianist on the eve of a performance and the edge of a nervous breakdown. His story supplies reflections on the value of the arts, most peoples’ lamentable alienation from high art and love.

The last group centers on Jessica, a young woman new to the metropolis from a small town and enamored of life, Paris and – what else? – love. Jessica’s story loosely ties the groups together, as she strikes up friendly relations with the collector, the son, the actress and the pianist.

The promotional campaign characterizes Avenue Montaigne as the story of Jessica and how her innocence transforms these peoples’ lives. When I was driving home after the movie I started to formulate various theories as to why the distributor invented that story to market the film, when I remembered that was the plot of Amelie. People who enjoyed Amelie are likely to enjoy Avenue Montaigne as well, but it is hardly the same story and the films have little in common beyond a shared affection for Paris and advocacy for living life to the fullest.

Avenue Montaigne is predictable, the characterizations are superficial and the direction and other technical aspects are uninteresting. If the movie was a serious treatment of these characters’ emotional crises those would be significant flaws. Fortunately, the treatment is anything but serious. Avenue Montaigne is a lively and amusing crowd-pleaser.

3 stars