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Jessica (Cecile de France), a beautiful young woman from the provinces, moves to Paris and lands a job waiting tables at a chic bistro on fabled Avenue Montaigne, the city's nexus for art, music, theatre and fashion. Jessica's customers include a popular TV actress (Valerie Lemercier) who is courting a Hollywood director (Sydney Pollack) for her first serious film role; a wealthy art collector (Claude Brasseur) who is about to liquidate a lifetime's worth of treasures at auction; his disillusioned son Frederick (Christopher Thomson); and an illustrious classical pianist (Albert Dupontel) who is at odds with his manager/wife (Laura Morante) as to where his career is headed. Precisely because Jessica doesn't know how celebrated these people are, her guileless engagement in their lives has a transforming effect on them - and ultimately her.

Review by Louise Keller:
There's an actress who is apologetic for her TV soap success, a concert pianist who loves to play but hates the rigmarole, and a rich art collector who has decided to trade his life's collection for the spoils it offers him. But it is Cecile De France's Jessica, who has crashed into the world of the privileged, who finds herself centre stage. Daniele Thompson weaves magic into this microcosm of diversity, set in cosmopolitan Paris, where the rich and the famous bump into ordinary folks and the Eiffel Tower shimmers like a glistening giant tree in a fairy tale. The characters are appealing, the situations compelling and as it all unravels, delightful.

There are two kinds of people in the world, says Cecile De France's Jessica, who lights up the screen with a spontaneous smile and an optimistic outlook. Those who answer the phone and say: 'Who the hell's that? And those who say 'hey'." When Jessica arrives in Paris, she is wearing rose coloured glasses, and is pumped up from her beloved grandmother's philosophies about life and humanity. She can't help but be star-struck when she meets her favourite tv soap actress in the Bar des Theatres where she is working as a waitress. How can she be blasé while delivering balsamic vinegar for Valérie Lemercier's acclaimed actress Catherine Versen in which to douse her daily croissant, or have Albert Dupontel's successful pianist Jean-François Lefort tickle the ivories just for her. Or hardest still, how can she remain uninvolved when she overhears a confession of infidelity concerning the ageing art collector Jacques (Claude Brasseur), his gold-digging girlfriend (Annelise Hesme) and philandering son Frédéric (Christopher Thomson), when she finds the latter extremely attractive.

Each story strand has a crisis and we become involved in all the stories. As an adjunct to Jean-Francois' professional crisis and even more moving, is his relationship with his wife Valentine (Laura Morante), who has nurtured his art in the same way that Jacques has cherished his art collection. Meanwhile, Catherine desperately wants to shrug her populist image and get a role she can sink her teeth into; the scenes in which she tries to impress Sydney Pollack's famed Hollywood director Brian Sobinski in order to play Simone de Bauvoir in a film, are some of the film's funniest. Daniele and Christopher Thomson's marvellously crafted script brings all the characters to life as they struggle to shake the worlds in which they live. All with a backdrop of Paris and the music of Charles Aznavour, Juliette Greco and Gilbert Becaud.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Thomsons (mother and son) are an impressive French filmmaking duo, capable of making a seamlessly commercial comedy like this one, full of nuance, meaning and eternal truths. My favourite film of theirs is still Jet Lag (2002) but this comes close. For one thing, the relationship between Jessica (Cecile de France) and the grandmother who brought her up (the wonderful veteran actress Suzanne Flon) is so compelling it justifies the price of the ticket on its own. The film also boasts a layered screenplay of intersecting relationships that are pivoting on events taking place on a single day, in a small triangle at the heart of Parisian cultural life.

Cecile de France, her gamin features accentuated by short blonde hair and a dazzlingly innocent smile, is perfect as the naïve outsider who stumbles into the very heart of French culture: music, art and acting! The screenplay is adroit at making it all credible, and the direction is deceptively simple as Thomson cuts between three interrelated but separate stories. There is always room for a mistress in a French film, and this time the mistress is a gold digger; there is also always time for a genuine romance, which is held at bay until the very end; and there is always time for musings about art and the torture of performance. It's all there, juggled with aplomb and delivered with zest.

The characters are all at crunch time of one kind or another, but it doesn't feel contrived because they are all so real - and flawed. Jessica is the Amelie of this story, and she gives us a point of view that defies cynicism and defeats ennui.

There are laughs, grins and knowing smiles aplenty, and nothing is overplayed - except perhaps the romantic allure of Paris herself.

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(France, 2006)

Fauteuils d'orchestre

CAST: Cecile De France, Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Claude Brasseur, Christopher Thomson, Sydney Pollack, Annelise Hesme, Suzanne Flon

PRODUCER: Christine Gozlan

DIRECTOR: Daniele Thompson

SCRIPT: Christopher Thomson, Daniele Thomson


EDITOR: Sylvie Landre

MUSIC: Nicola Piovani

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michèle Abbé-Vannier

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes



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