Avenue Montaigne: France’s Oscar Entry

France’s Entry for the Best Foreign-Language Feature Oscar

Directed and co-written by Daniel Thompson (La Bche, Jet Lag), and selected as Frances Official Entry for this years Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, “Avenue Montaigne” centers on Jessica (Cecile de France), a beautiful young woman from the provinces who comes to Paris and lands a job waiting tables at a chic bistro on fabled Avenue Montaigne, the city’s nexus for art, music, theater and fashion.

Jessicas customers include a popular TV actress (Valrie Lemercier), who is courting a major Hollywood director (Sydney Pollack) for her first serious film role; a wealthy art collector (Claude Brasseur) who is about to liquidate a lifetimes worth of treasures at auction; and an illustrious classical pianist (Albert Dupontel), who is at odds with his manager/wife (Laura Morante) about his career. Jessica doesnt know how celebrated these people are, so her guileless and involvement in their lives has an effect on themand on hers.

Danile Thompson: With a dozen characters brought together in the Avenue Montaigne, its clear that “Avenue Montaigne” is a neighborhood movie. One evening, on the sidewalk of the Avenue Montaigne, I watched this crowd spilling out of all these places at the same time: from the Comdie des Champs-lyses theater, the concert hall, the auction house, the luxury hotels and the shops. There was this amazing traffic within this small area. I went back there several times. The people come and go, and very different worlds collide. There are artists, stagehands, art lovers and dealers people who would never ordinarily meet. On the same sidewalk, there are deliveries of costumes, sets, musical instruments, objets dart, and vegetables and fish for the restaurant on the roof of the theater or the Hotel Plaza Athne next door.

Christopher Thompson: Its a spot of Paris dedicated to showbiz, culture and luxury. To the superfluous, some might say. But its a dream place, and if you linger there, you see that its has a real neighborhood feel. And because its also a place people pass through, like tourists, artists, clients etc., the novelistic possibilities are endless.

DT: With a little hindsight, I can now see that without us realizing it, we work in a similar way at the start of a joint project we sketch out the boundary of the terrain in terms of location, time, and characters, and then we look for the story. La Bche is a family, three days, Christmas. Dcalage Horaire is romantic encounter, an airport, 24 hours. AVENUE MONTAIGNE is three days leading up to a crucial evening for all the characters, and above all, a neighborhood.

CT: With the caf over the road where they all meet up.

DT: Like the owner says, the Bar Des Thtres is a microcosm. Youre just as likely to find a street sweeper as a model, a concierge or a hotel guest. Its also like a refuge or a pocket of resistance. In its own way, this caf reveals how society develops the bistro is a survivor of the old Paris, an outpost against the luxury swamping the rest of the neighborhood.

CT: Its almost like a challenge we set ourselves to make a movie almost exclusively set in one place. This setting does have the advantage of several extraordinary locations, but we still wondered if it would prove a constraint. And then we decided that it wouldnt after all, we can do what we want. For us, the bones of the screenplay are the characters and their development. We often think about Frank Capra saying that what interests people is people. And anyway, the setting has already proved its worth.

DT: And we do leave the neighborhood once to go to a hospital.

CT: And also at the start of the movie, with Suzanne Flon. But apart from these little escapades, we stick around the Thtre des Champs-lyses. The next problem is the time span. We want to discover the characters and above all, watch them evolve, even if it does take place in a short time.

DT: Thats the advantage of cinema. You can cut out all the dead time, and ignore everything that slows us down in real life. You can be truthful without being realistic. Everything is speeded up: rhythm, meetings and feelings. In a movie, people fall in love, change their minds, and change their lives in a few hours. That intensity is part of the pleasure of drama.

CT: But to get there requires a lot of time a kind of maturation. Initially, we had many more characters and each one had their own story that was going to tie in with the others. You have to know how to sacrifice a scene or a character that youre fond of when it no longer has its place given the way the screenplay is evolving. Cut your darlings. That applies right up to the delicate process of editing.

DT: Its the blank page they talk about in the writing process. First theres a few abstract colors, a location, a few vague shapes. Of course there are certain bases. For example, I knew there would be a concierge about to retire, played by Dani. I had her in my head for a long time, and the actress character too, played by Valrie Lemercier. But afterwards, we took months of discussions for some of the characters to be born and some others to die.

CT: Its a permanent preoccupation did we get to the essence of a character Are they alive, real What draws them together And then what emerges at the end is often a bit of a mystery. There are motivations and different aspects of the characters that you only discover once the movie is finished. They emerge through this long work, through successive layers. Sometimes even we are surprised by the result.

DT: After writing three movies together, weve realized that we draw from the same sources each time. Were interested in recounting moments of crisis. The common thread running through our movies is that theyre all comedies about people who are suffering.

CT: In “Avenue Montaigne,” none of characters are satisfied. Even the rich, beautiful and famous ones who seem the most enviable feel something lacking. Theyre all searching for something else.

DT: Their problems feed the drama. With these same problems, we could have written a tragedy or a real comedy, but I like finding a path between the two, and trying to find the balance on a tightrope between emotion and laughter. I experience that every day a fit of crying gives way to a fit of laughter. All the same, “Avenue Montaigne” is a comedy.

CT: A human comedy.

DT: Thats what the original French title “Fauteuils D’Orchestra” (“Orchestra Seats”) is about. In life, just like in the theater, you often think youd be better off sitting somewhere else. You think youd have a better view if you were closer to the stage, more to the right, or more to the left. You look around, you change seats, and you go further and further forward until youre right in the front row of the orchestra seats, and often you realize your view is worse than it was from where you started.

CT: And its a family expression too.

DT: Its something my grandmother Marcelle Oury used to say. When she confided in someone in a public place, shed suddenly mutter orchestra seats. It meant that a stranger was listening in on the conversation. And then theres that idea that Shakespeare among many others used that life is like a theater.

CT: In “Avenue Montaigne,” objects, people and points of view all circulate in constant movement, but with one unanswered question and then what And that question becomes all the more significant with Claude Brasseurs character, the art collector, because he senses his life is coming to an end. What will remain of us, what will we pass on when were no longer around

DT: Its a question that runs through the movie, mainly with Suzanne Flons character, and what she passes on to her granddaughter in terms of her joie de vivre, her hope, her daring and her sense of adventure.

CT: For the collector and his son there is a more concrete handing down through a statue–one sells it and the other buys it. For me, it also represents a transfer of power, and a dialogue between them that is established at a key time in their lives as one arrives at a moment of reckoning and the other reaches the age of maturity. They need each other to help them best get through these times. The handing down of a past history is guaranteed through this symbolic statue.

DT: Their legacy is also addressed through details in their costumes. We agreed with Catherine Leterrier that the son should have a look that fits with his development through the movie. Hes a brilliant intellectual but with his little bag and his old raincoat, he looks a little gray, whereas his father, who started out with nothing and became a man of the world, is very elegant with his cashmere sweaters and his classic overcoats. On the last day, its the son wearing the chic navy coat. The handing down almost happens through imitation.

CT: Our legacy partly comes through cinema and work.

DT: I worked with my father for years but with you it wasnt so clear and I approached you with extreme caution.

CT: For a long time, I was very wary of the idea of forming another writing partnership like the one you had with Grard, but it came about naturally. In fact, I think that this joint work offers a very special setting to share ideas, to learn and to talk with one another. Its an extremely rich relationship and its a wonderful opportunity. But of course there must be good, tangible reasons to form such a partnership.

DT: I thought it would be interesting right from the start and I told myself that the fact Christopher is my son didnt mean it wouldnt work.

CT: For a scriptwriting partnership to work, you have to bring out the best and the most unexpected in each other.

DT: I think you have an essential quality you know how to stop when things are going around in circles. Of course you contribute your imagination and creativity but you also know how to say stop when things are becoming too simplistic. Its a very important perspective to have.

CT: You never let go. Youre relentless: have we reached the end of the scene What exactly does she mean And that makes us constantly examine the reasons why we are making the movie and what we really want to say.

DT: This job really requires discipline and rigor. You must never lose the thread, despite the coffee breaks when we chat about family tales.

CT: Its great working with someone else. You start playing a game like tennis and your partner has to know how to return the ball. You could be two great players but not know how to rally. The most important thing is that your games work together and you come up with some great exchanges.