DID YOU READ

Daniele Thompson on “Avenue Montaigne”

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photo: “Avenue Montaigne,” ThinkFilm, 2007]

The street is real, a stretch in Paris lined with theaters, concert halls, auction houses, and anchored by a tiny café where artists, performers, businessmen and blue collar workers intermingle. Into this locale, director Danièle Thompson — co-scripting with her son Christopher — places a TV star (Valérie Lemercier), desperate to move beyond the role that made her a celebrity; a pianist (Christopher Thompson, again), oppressed by the demands of his fame; his father (Claude Brasseur), conflicted about the auction that will close a chapter of his life; an American director (Sydney Pollack), on the hunt for the perfect Simone de Beauvoir; and a young woman from the provinces (Cécile de France), who interacts with them all. I spoke with Thompson about and the comedy, drama, and humanity that courses down “Avenue Montaigne.”

There’s a generosity to this film — even the gold-digging girlfriend isn’t judged too harshly. Were you in an especially good mood when you wrote this?

It’s a very interesting question. You think, “My God, where do I start? What thread do I pull first in this strange, abstract idea?” It actually came out of one evening when I went to see a beautiful concert at Avenue des Champs-Elysées [from which Avenue Montaigne extends]. It’s a place I know very well. It’s like Lincoln Center; you go all your life and you walk by and you go in, but [this evening] I suppose I was looking for an idea and I looked around as a cinematographer. I looked at this place, “This is very beautiful.”

Outside at 11:30, people are pouring out of the theater next door, people are going out of the downstairs auction room, there’s a restaurant with the doorman with his uniform. And then there’s this little café which a lot of the Parisians know, and which, as we say in the film, is the only place in the area where you can have a normal meal any hour of the day or night. We have millions of these cafés in France, but [usually] everybody in them is the same. Everybody works in the same area; if it’s a beautiful area, people are better dressed. If it’s a poor area, people also look the same. This place, they don’t — you have very elegant people mixing with people who work.

So I walked out of the concert and everybody was rushing [into the café], thinking maybe they could grab a table, because those nights, it’s an assault on this place. And I felt there’s something about this place, which is very, very different from anywhere else in the world. Maybe we should talk about these people and how they meet, how they get together in this little café. It started like that.

The egalitarian nature of the café extends to the rest of the film, doesn’t it? I was thinking how film protagonists are often isolated to their own strata — you don’t usually expect to see a character who’s a famous TV star hanging around the kitchen of a concierge.

But that’s close to real life, because you do end up there. The concierge’s [Claudie Dani] place is a sort of a refuge for these people. I guess, whoever you are and wherever you are — and this is very much what the film is about — you need to break up the doors of the prison somehow and try something else. The French title [for the film] is “Orchestra Seats,” which is very much a metaphor for the fact that wherever you sit, you always look: Would it be better on the side? Or somebody comes and sits in front of you and he’s a giant and prevents you from watching the show. There’s always that search: Am I in the best place I could be?

It’s not unusual for a parent to direct a child’s performance in a film. Mother/son writing teams are a little unusual, though. How did that dynamic work?

Well, we did it with my first film, “La Buche,” which was about seven years ago and the big test. Once we passed that step, it became work, which is what it is now. It’s very interesting, and I did it for a long time with my own father [Gérard Oury] — we used to write my father’s films. Once you overcome this family problem, it’s very, very interesting to work with someone younger — or older, for him — with another point of view: a woman and a man, different sensitivities. It’s a good team, because there are things I say that he never would have thought about, and a lot of things he says I never would have thought about.

Did he essentially write his own role?

No, it’s all mixed.

Was there anything you brought to his role that he couldn’t have seen?

What’s interesting in the character is the fact that this young man never really understood the couple that the father and mother were, felt maybe a little forgotten by the parents, because of their passion for art and the fact that they’d built this collection and would rather go to some gallery opening than a PTA meeting. This is what we say in the film, but it goes much further than that. Some couples are parents more than couples, and some couples are couples more than parents, and this is the case for this young man. But I don’t think [Christopher] would have missed that, because we built these characters together.

You brought Sidney Pollack in to play a famous American director. Was there anything you had to change in your approach when you were directing him?


You have to forget that he’s a director. I had many directors in the film. Valérie Lemercier is a very good director; Albert Depontel is a director. The three of them had just finished films when they came to the set, and they were so relieved to just sit there. They loved it, so it made me feel very comfortable.

“Avenue Montaigne” opened in New York on February 16, with a national release to follow (official site).

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.