Dir: Daniele Thompson. Fr. 2006. 106mins.
A sparkling champagne-light ensemble piece of a moviewhich showcases one of Paris's most deluxe thoroughfares, Orchestra Seats is the third successful solo outing from writer-directorDaniele Thompson.
The daughter oflate comedy director Gerard Oury, with who she wroteseveral of French cinema's biggest box-office smashes back in the 1960s and 1970s,Thompson has emerged as an accomplished all-round specialist in polished,crowd-pleasing entertainments built on well-constructed scripts and on starcasting.
Orchestra Seats follows in the track of success of her 1999 Yuletidefamily comedy, La Buche,and the 2002 airport romance Jet Lag,both of which traveled well. Now second in the national box-office charts, Orchestra Seats has already sold morethan 1.3m tickets in its first three weeks. Given the international reach ofthe first two films, it should equal if not surpass their cross-borderattraction.
Workingagain with screenwriter son Christopher Thompson - who also takes one of themain roles - Orchestra Seats plotsoverlapping destinies in and around the splendid art nouveau-style Theatre desChamps-Elysees, one of the city's major classicalmusic venues.
The script obeysa unity of place and time, evolving over a four-day period and shuttlingbetween the main theatre, its sister stage and auction rooms that flank it, and the bar-restaurant across the street.
The bar is theintermediary zone where wide-eyed young provincial Jessica (France) lands a waitressing job. It allows her to gape at her favourite TV star Catherine Versen(Lemercier), who is rehearsing a Feydeauplay across the way, and mix with more up-market figures to who she findsherself playing confidante.
In the processshe unwittingly eavesdrops on the anxieties and preoccupations of the verypeople she believes live in a paradise-on-earth. Among them are rehearsingclassical pianist Jean-Francois Lefort (Dupontel), who chafes at the career strait-jacket hiswife-manager (Morante) has tailored for him; and Jacques Grumberg(Brasseur), a self-made man and millionaire artdealer who decides to auction off his fabulous private collection to the vocaldispleasure of his estranged intellectual son (Thompson).
As it turns out,piano recital, Feydeau premiere and auctionconveniently fall on the same evening, which allows Thompson to skillfullyinstill a mood of low-key suspense.
Not surprisingly,the film hums most delightfully when it is in comic gear. Versenhungers for more up-market roles and furiously courts an American film-maker(Pollack, playing a director not dissimilar to himself) in town to cast a biopic about Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Valerie Lemercier (whorecently made the hit comedy Palais Royal) pullsout all the comic stops in a restaurant scene, in which she posits Versen's own view of de Beauvoiragainst the American's stereotyped notions. Then she tops the hilarity at theopening night performance of the Feydeau play, manicallysabotaging lines to draw the attention of the director in the audience to herphysical resemblance to de Beauvoir.
The script attimes veers dangerously close to cliche and banality, but is saved by thequality of the acting. Claude Brasseur and Albert Dupontel inject freshness andfeeling into their soul-searching, while Thompson does nicely as the sonseeking reconciliation with a distant father and attempting to save oneemblematic sculpture from the auction block. Cecile De France charms as Candide and Sydney Pollack plays himselfwith unpretentious ease.
Suzanne Flon, who died aged 87shortly after the film wrapped, isthe grandmother who fires De France's imagination with her own Parisianmemories as a toilet attendant at the Hotel Plaza-Athenee.
Technical creditsare first-rate, with a special mention due for Sylvia Landra'ssupple editing.
TF1 Films Production
Radis Films Production
Cecile de France