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'AVENUE MONTAIGNE' A FASCINATING CROSSROADS.

Byline: Glenn Whipp

Film Critic

'Avenue Montaigne," the French entry in this year's Oscar foreign-language derby, is a Francophile's dream -- a fluffy souffle of a film populated by French artist-types, all finding themselves at a crossroads in life while walking the beautifully lit streets of central Paris.

French cinema has been dominated recently by breezy comedies of this kind that have the consistency and nutritional value of cotton candy. Daniele Thompson's movie, though, is better than most in the genre, possessing a whimsy that never feels forced and a bittersweet edge in its characters' elusive pursuit of happiness.

The colliding denizens of "Avenue Montaigne" come from all walks of life, but, in the immortal words of Bono, they all still haven't found what they're looking for. They meet by chance at a cafe on the titular Parisian street, located in a well-heeled Right Bank neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe. Thompson romanticizes the cafe -- and then some -- as a place where the high and low, rich and poor, sup and take refuge. It's old Paris, the Paris we like to hold in our hearts.

The film's angel -- and talk about a romanticized ideal -- is Jessica (Cecile de France), a sprite who takes a waitress job at the cafe and proceeds to affect the lives of the restaurant's clientele -- brooding, glamorous rich folk, each of whom is facing some sort of crisis.

There's a TV soap star (Valerie Lemercier) angling for a part in a prestigious film, a famous classical pianist (Albert Dupontel) looking to downsize his career and a wealthy art collector (Claude Brasseur) who's dumping everything he spent his life amassing, much to the amazement of his estranged son (Christopher Thompson, son of director Daniele, with whom he co-wrote the movie).

The characters are all vividly brought to life, none more so than Lemercier's bumbling actress, a frantic woman perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown. ("I'm not manic-depressive," she corrects a friend. "I'm bipolar.") Lemercier recently won the Cesar for supporting actress, justly so. Her scenes with Sydney Pollack, slyly playing the director she's trying to impress, are intense and hysterical -- worth recommending the movie on their own.

Thompson nicely underplays the film's coincidental connections and melodrama, creating a tone that's assured, relaxed and easy to appreciate. Like a lot of other recent French imports, "Avenue Montaigne" doesn't demand much. But unlike most of its predecessors, it delivers more.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp@dailynews.com

AVENUE MONTAIGNE - Three stars

(PG-13: some strong language, brief sex scene)

Starring: Cecile de France, Valerie Lemercier.

Director: Daniele Thompson.

Running time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Playing: Laemmle's Town Center 5 in Encino; Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; Laemmle's Royal in Los Angeles.

In a nutshell: Frothy French import a must for Francophiles. In French with English subtitles.

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Photo:

Christopher Thompson and Cecile de France share a moment in a French cafe in "Avenue Montaigne."
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 2, 2007
Words:488
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