France's failed bid for the Academy Award's Foreign Language Film in 2006, Danièle Thompson's Avenue Montaigne is a paean to Paris, love, and the invigorating power of art. It follows the wanderings of Jessica (Cécile De France), a winsome waif who moves to Paris on a whim inspired by the irresponsibly romantic ramblings of her grandmother. With her wide taking-in-the-beauty-of-life eyes, broad smile, boyish haircut, and childish fashion sense, Jessica is an orphan pixie nauseatingly reminiscent of Amélie. She talks her way into a job and into the hearts of those around her with adorable aplomb and giddy hugs.
In the more satisfactory first half, supporting characters Catherine (Valérie Lemercier), Jean-François (Albert Dupontel), and Jacques (Claude Brasseur) are all dealing with mid- to late-life crises. They're questioning their passion and abilities at their jobs and their relationships with their lovers. Lemercier in particular strikes the right balance between overblown humor and pathos to make a syrupy spectacle like Avenue Montaigne work. There is a pleasing congruity to Catherine's storyline and Lemercier's performance. Catherine impresses American director Brian Sobinski (Sydney Pollack) with her enthusiasm and knowledge of Simone de Beauvoir so much that he decides to change his upcoming biographical film to be told from her character's perspective; Lemercier, in her excellence, similarly tilts the film's focus towards an appreciation of what could easily come across as a pathetic character.
However the resolution of the characters' crises are painfully simplistic. The central premise of the film rests on an appealing but troubling fantasy: that life's darker problems are solved by ignoring them and focusing on a pretty surface. "I loved jewelry, I loved luxury," the grandma's voice-over repeatedly states, and this is what the film holds up as the ideal of Paris. By emphasizing immediate surface pleasures, director Thompson ignores the very real intensity and intellectuality that is the basis of Paris' romantic caricature. Less cynical viewers may disagree; whether or not one enjoys this film may depend on one's susceptibility to swooning over a night-lit Eiffel Tower at the time of viewing.