Touchingly French

“Avenue Montaigne (Fauteuils d’Orchestre)”THiNKFilmDirected by Danile ThompsonWritten by Christopher Thompson and Danile ThompsonStarring: Ccile De France, Valrie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Laura Morante, Claude Brasseur, Christopher Thompson, Dani and Sydney PollackRated PG-13/100 minutesOpened April 6, 2007Three out of four stars

A tired stage actress tells an adoring fan about how she pokes her head out from behind the curtain just before a show starts and watches crashers dash to fill open seats as the lights dim. Most of the time, those crashers will get a seat in the far back-but sometimes, if they’re lucky, they might find a seat up front.

Catherine, the tired actress, was one of those lucky crashers. Popular on TV and popular on the stage, she has many fans like the one she tells her story to. But fame, along with the stress that comes with it, suffocates her. Only now does she realize that her front row seat may be too close for comfort.

The characters in Danile Thompson’s lightly charming romantic drama “Avenue Montaigne (Fauteuils d’orchestre)” are obsessed or frustrated with fame to some degree. They all live, linger or perform on the same romantically idealized street in Paris-a street with a theater on one side and a cute caf on the other where all the characters can bump into one another in that whimsical French way.

Jean-Franois Lefort (Albert Dupontel) is a much sought-after concert pianist, sick of performing for the same rich, tuxedoed crowds night after night. He wants to play for less fortunate ears, for ears that have never had the chance (or money) to attend his concerts. It’s not that Jean-Franois thinks he’s that good-he just believes his talent should be made available to more than only the self-congratulatory crowd.

He has a humbling experience when he plays for a hospital crowd and his music allows those dying patients to forget about their conditions, if only for a moment. The scene sounds overly sentimental, but the subtle emotion on Dupontel’s face, along with Thompson’s subtle direction of the scene, makes it touching instead of cloying.

One of the hospital patients is Jacques Grumberg (Claude Brasseur), an old man dying of cancer. He needs value attached to his life-quite literally, in fact. He plans to sell the art collection that made him famous as well as broke. The collection will be auctioned off in the basement of the theater. “I began as a cabbie,” he says. “I don’t want to go out as a museum guardsman.”

There’s also the tired actress, Catherine Versen (Valerie Lemercier), who has toiled away onstage and in barely credible soap operas for too long. Her desperation reeks like bad perfume. A lunch date with an American director scouting for talent (played by American director Sydney Pollack) ends with her having a near-nervous breakdown.

Floating in and out of these characters’ lives is Jessica (Ccile De France, far from her slasher role in “High Tension”), a pixie-ish young woman who gets a job at the caf so she can earn enough money to treat her dying grandma to a night of luxury.

Thompson handles all of this with sweet, gentle emotion; at no point do we feel that these characters will not get the release or breaks they need. “Avenue Montaigne” is likeable all the way through, though not particularly substantial-but sometimes all we need from a movie is that simple reassurance that everything will turn out all right in the end.

Especially on a warmly lit street in Paris.

“Oh, Waldo, how I try to find you in crowds. Alas, you are gone, dead to me. Le sigh. Le sigh.”