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ORCHESTRA SEATS/FAUTEUILS D'ORCHESTRE:
Danièle Thompson's third directorial outing (preceded by La Bûche and Jet Lag/Décolage horaire) flows brilliantly on a grand scale doling out clichés and pungent acting in equal measure. It could do quite well with the older generation US art house audience and if the Film Society was looking for French films unlikely to be distributed here, this and the opener Palais Royal! were odd choices. Series viewers begin with a big dose of Valérie Lemercier, since she is prominent in both this and Palais Royal!
Three high-profile lives will meet deadlines on Paris' chic Avenue Montaigne on the 17th of the month in this story a famous pianist is going to perform Beethoven, a popular TV actress debuts in a Feydeau farce, and a millionaire is going to auction off the great collection of modern art he's spent a lifetime assembling.
All three are dissatisfied. TV star Catherine Versen (Valérie Lemercier) gets extravagant paychecks for playing a problem-solving mayor on a popular high toned soap and runs into passionate fans wherever she goes, but she'd really much rather be a serious actress and play, say, Simone de Beauvoir in the movie a famous American director, Brian Sobinski (Sydney Pollack) is in town to cast. Millionaire businessman Jacques Grunberg (Claude Brasseur) is still enjoying life, but he knows not much of it remains to him. He is ill, and his relations with his grumpy professor son Frédéric (Christopher Thomson, the director's son) are cold. His collection is no longer alive to him either. He makes up for it with a young trophy girlfriend. Pianist Jean-Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel) is managed by his mournful but devoted wife Valentine (Laura Morante, the mother in Moretti's The Son's Room) and he's booked solid for the next six years, but the whole concert life feels as constrictive to him as the evening clothes he must wear for concerts (Dupontel looks like a hunkier version of the sad pianist played by Charles Aznavour in Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player). Jean-Francois wants to dump it all, but his wife, whom he loves, may bolt if he does.
Tying all these celebs together are a couple of charming observers, Jessica and Claudie. Claudie (Dani) is the theater concierge and she's about to retire. Claudie has lived her dream of meeting all the pop stars as well as classical performers of decades past. She had no talent, she announces, so she chose to be around talent, and she succeeded and feels her life was very worthwhile. The moments when we see her lip-sync old French pop songs whose singers she's known through her job are perhaps the film's happiest. As a kind of Ariel and mascot for the piece there is Jessica (Cécile de France), a naive cutie from the provinces with a pretty face and charming smile (the Belgian-born Cécile has been one of French film's most promising young female stars of recent years) who's just landed a wait job at the old-fashioned Café des Arts a place that serves every level of society that works in the quarter and who, wouldn't you know it, quickly meets Jacques, Jean-Francois, Catherine, and even Frérdéric, who's eventually smitten, and Jessica hears them all unload their problems.
Book-ending the piece is the relationship of Jessica and the grandma who raised her (Suzanne Flon), Madame Roux, whose life foreshadowed Jessica's: she "always loved luxury" but was poor so when she went to Paris she worked as a maid in the ladies room of the Ritz. Flon just died at 87 and the film is dedicated to her: one of those great French cinematic troupers, she was performing, delightfully, in films right up until the end -- eight films in the past five years.
There's climax, romance, and reconciliation in store at the end for the cast. This is very glossy mainstream French stuff, good writing by Christopher Thompson in collaboration with his mother Danièle, smooth directing, good work by the stellar cast. Lemercider isn't as buffoonish as she was in Palais Royal!one begins to see her appeal. The movie doesn't take itself too seriously even if the scenes between the pianist and his Italian wife are a bit intense, due to casting. The question is, what's this all about, and why must we concern ourselves with the "predicaments" of people who from the looks of it are so singularly fortunate in life?
(Shwon as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series at Lincoln Center, March 2006, Fauteuils d'orchestre opened in Paris February 15, 2006.)
As in most of the best French films, not a lot happens and people spend a lot of time talking about their problems but somehow it works. The central character played by Cecile de France is largely a ficelle designed to link together the subplots. Each of these involves an apparently enviable character - someone who's apparently got it made - who isn't as happy as he (or she) should be. The malaises of these rich and glitzy characters turn out to be universal human problems - ageing, family strife, boredom. One of the major themes of the film, beautifully woven through all the subplots, is that we should theorise about life (and art) less and respond to life (and art) in an emotionally direct way. Ergo I shall simply say I enjoyed it, I didn't get a numb behind and I was happier after I came out than when I went in. It's worth the price of admission for the Sidney Pollack restaurant scene alone.
My family and I love this movie Daniele Thomson and her son Christopher wrote a wonderful story and put it under the Paris sky and wonderful sites of the city, each person in this movie has a some thing that we can relate with, the comedy part is fowlowed by heart felt sentiments. The acting is superb ,the Effel Tower with the flashing lights is so romantic,the young girl is so believable and will probably be a great star.I had the priveledge to stay at the hotel across the theater and was so glad to see it in that movie ,I also went to the restaurant next door and talked to the real waiter Marcel, this movie has no violence and can be seen by the all family. I felt like I was back in Paris ,I will get the DVD and watch it every time I am lonesome for that wonderful city, it was a delight Chistopher Thompson also a good actor and writer.
I loved this movie! It is light and frothy, sure, but much more absorbing and entertaining than most of these intersecting lives type offerings. It is a slightly preposterous scenario, sure, but as the NZ Herald review said "The film is studded with smart, unshowy performances [...] that make the story's contrived nature virtually unnoticeable". The script doesn't miss a beat and the characters are all immensely appealing, some portrayed with a level of depth you wouldn't expect for the plot. It is funny too. I really think it raises the bar for this genre. Plus who can't fall for all the gorgeous shots of Paris? 100% enjoyment.
This is today's French commercial cinema by the numbers: gamin plucky
young woman character, check. Over the top if beautiful actress, check.
Aging, wise woman, check. Well- preserved dotty grandmother in pearls
and Hermes scarf, check. Anguished artist with long- suffering wife,
check. Sexy young male actor as counterpoint to gamin plucky young
actress, check. Lots of shots of Paris with accordion music, check.
Recognizable foreign actor in cameo role, check. Gerard Depardieu --
oops, he missed out on this one. Fire his agent!
All that cynicism aside, this is still an enjoyable, frothy film. It is not quite as imaginative as Amelie, but it is better than much of the French cinema that is being churned out these days. The three plot lines are skillfully woven together and the outcome will satisfy all but the most hard-hearted. Now I guess the question will be, who'll play all these characters when the movie is bought by an American studio and rewritten to take place in New York.
There's got to be something in there for Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Garner, non?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At the end of this delightful, charming and classy film there's a moment just before the End Credits when we fade to black and two words appear in the bottom right hand corner: a Suzanne. I suppose if you ARE going to die in harness at the age of 87 and have the last film on which you worked dedicated to you then you could do far, far worse than choose this for your swan song. Suzanne Flon doesn't have a lot to do here - unlike, say, La Fleur du Mal - but her smile and warmth light up the screen as she tops and tails this gem. In her third At Bat Daniele Thompson hits one out of the park but then after La Buche and Declage Horaire we don't expect less. Three stories are linked by Cecile de France, the grand-daughter of Suzanne Flon's character, who journeys from the Provinces to Paris and secures a waitress job at a restaurant adjacent to both a theatre, concert hall and Auction Room where, in the fullness of time she meets an actress, a concert pianist and a millionaire so jaded that he is selling off the items he's spent a lifetime collecting. Valerie Lemercier scores heavily as a soap queen adored by millions but longing to go 'legit' and play Feydeau on the boards, meanwhile Albert Dupontel's classical pianist is suffocating beneath the weight of his formal dress and equally formal lifestyle but torn between rebellion and the loss of his wife. Thompson's son Christopher is, as usual, on hand as co-writer and actor and as the distant son of the millionaire he gets to romance Cecile. Rounding things out is Dani, a concierge who, over the years has met everybody in show business worth meeting and her karaoke versions of French hit songs punctuate the action nicely. If 'entertainment' pure and simple (not to say Stylish and Classy) lights your fire then run, don't walk to catch this one.
"The question is, what's this all about, and why must we concern
ourselves with the 'predicaments' of people who from the looks of it
are so singularly fortunate in life?" (Chris Knipp).
Chris Knipp, no offence, hasn't understood the movie's main idea at all. This, in my experience, is what the movie is all about the separation between "high class" classical music and life. Classical music, as all music, stems from life itself, is inspired and shaped by it. One can see how, exemplified by the pianist, this form of human expression is put in the strait-jacket of so-called "high culture". Said pianist is fortunate indeed to have his talent, but he's hardly able to breathe, to enjoy and live his talents because he's made to put up a show, to dance to the tune of what he himself calls "the system".
I left the theater smiling. I'd had a really good time in a film that
celebrates human diversity and the possibilities for contact between
people in a big city. I found the performances really good,
particularly Albert Dupontel as the pianist, Sydney Pollack as the
American director, Dani as the theater concierge and Claude Brasseur as
the aging art collector. Daniele Thompson has made two other films
(which I haven't seen) and she must be one of the more talented
filmmakers in France today.
The film abounds in wonderful set pieces which serve to reveal the character's qualities. When Catherine Versen meets Sobinski by chance in the restaurant, it's a deliciously comic encounter that shows her insecurity about playing in mediocre TV soaps. There she is, talking to the famous director, and she can't get the names of his films straight.
An oh so cute, naive, guileless, and somewhat ditsy mademoiselle from
the sticks comes to Paris to follow her grandmother's advice and "push
her way in" and see what happens. She lands a job as a waitress in a
little café that never hires women. She is hired because the owner
needs help during a trifecta of events about to take place near the
café. A recital by a great pianist; an opening of a new play starring a
famous daytime TV comedienne; and an auction of an art collector's
As she waits on the customers, both in the café and in their work, she meets all three of the main players in the events. The poetic license taken is that all of these people would take time to chat; open up and share intimacies with our little gamine. But she is oh so cute, and oh so socially clueless, that she charms them. Through her meanderings we see all the stories of the main protagonists emerge. The pianist wants to quit formal recitals; feeling hemmed in by the pressure. The actress wants to break out of her "popular but shallow" roles; and the collector wants to sell off his possessions because he is dying and he needs the money for his last days with his mistress.
In the end all of the loose ends are tied up and our heroine ends up with the son of the collector. It's all very pleasant, and at times earnest, stuff - but it is all so derivative and staged!
Avenue Montaigne aka Fauteuils d'orchestre or Orchestra Seats is the
second movie directed by Daniéle Thompson and written by her and her
son Christopher Thompson that I have seen. I like her work very much
and look forward to see her Jet Lag (2002), another romantic comedy or
rather light drama with Juliette Binoche and Jean Réno.
Few months ago I saw my first Thompson's movie, La Bûche (1999), the stories of three sisters, the Parisians with the sweet Russian names, Sonya (Emmanuelle Béart), Lyuba (Sabine Azémaand), and Milla (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and their parents who have been divorced for 25 years but still have a lot to say to each other. I was charmed by the clever, funny, touching and poignant Christmas dramedy in Paris. I expected to like "Avenue Montaigne" as much as La Bûche and I was not disappointed. The story of a young provincial girl Jessica, a waitress at the legendary café which has been frequented by the rich, famous, and talented for many years is linked with the stories of an actress, a piano player and an art collector. All three are successful, wealthy, talented, and...unhappy. Jacques, an art collector is determined to sell the priceless pieces he and his late wife had collected for 30 years. Jean-François (Albert Dupontel), internationally renowned concert pianist is suffocating in the life where every day is scheduled for many years ahead by his wife, who is also his manager. He adores music and he is madly in love with his wife whom he may lose if he quits his career. Valerie Lemercier as Catherine steels the film as the hugely popular and wealthy TV star who dreams of playing in the Art movies. Her scene with the American film director, Sobinski (Sidney Pollack) who came to Paris looking for an actress in his biopic about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre elevates the nice stylish comedy to the higher level. Lemercie was incredibly passionate, riveting, and yes, sexy when she gave Sobinski her vision of the celebrated author, philosopher, feminist, who was a muse and inspiration, friend and lover to some of the most brilliant men from the last century. I would run, not just walk to see the movie about Simone de Beauvoir with Lemercie as Simone.
Set in always captivating Paris, filled with the thoroughly chosen soundtrack that features Beethoven's Finale de la sonate 'La Tempête' ( my favorite Beethoven's sonata), "Consolation N°3 en ré bémol majeur" composed by Franz Liszt, and the songs of such French singing legends as Gilbert Bécaud, Juliette Gréco, and Charles Aznavour, the latest Danièle Thompson's film is a charm and delight. Daughter of director Gérard Oury has inherited her father's talent and I will be waiting for her every new movie.
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