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February 2006
AVENUE MONTAIGNE: An Interview with Director/Screenwriter Christopher Thompson and Screenwriter Daniele Thompson

AVENUE MONTAIGNE: An Interview with Director/Screenwriter Christopher Thompson and Screenwriter Daniele Thompson
By Nicole Schmuelian

The mother-son duo capture the romantic portrait of Paris, while still being able to show the comedy, drama, and anxiety of their unique characters that they created over an extended period of time. With its outstanding ensemble of characters the film follows different avenues of each character’s life.  Daniele and Christopher talk about their work ethic, the amount of time it takes to create a screenplay, what attracted them to their main character Cécile De France and much more.  They are charming and so illuminating to interview that it is no wonder that Christopher Thompson puts himself in front of the camera as well as a collaborator on the script. 

In making a film like this with writing, and directing, how much of it is written before you get to directing?  How much do you tell her (Daniele Thompson) it works, it doesn’t work?

Christopher Thompson: A lot of both, a lot are written.  It is completely written. We tend to work; I realized because I talked to others we tend to spend a lot of time writing, for a very long period. It usually takes a bout a year at least.  So it’s a lot of meeting together throwing around ideas.  Taking notes and more notes and more notes and reading our notes again and once something seems to be worth it.  At one point we put the whole thing together.

Danièle Thompson: It is an interesting thing, ensemble because when we start with an original screenplay, which is exactly what we are doing now, you have a very vague idea what it is going to be about.  For this one (Avenue Montaigne) the tale about this area and about the very special mixture of people because of the theater and the café.  Which is exactly like this, this is the theater the café is there. We didn’t cheat you know, like we do in movies it is actually there and that is where the whole idea came from.  But then after you have this idea which is a tiny little scene, which thread are you going to pull, to start and work on. Very quickly I guess build the characters and who are we going to talk about?  What are the individual stories?  And how does each individual story bring us our story? They each have their own and then we have one.

Christopher Thompson: They each have their own story and they each sort of shed a light on the other.  They’re completely independent and they are intertwined.  That’s why it takes us time.  It takes us time; I don’t know we are slow.

Do you map it out? Do you have a little chart?

Danièle Thompson: We don’t map it out but we have characters and how each character will…they don’t all meet they almost all meat but they don’t.  The pianist and the actress just say hello to each other in the café.  Really the one that meats them all is Jessica, the young girl.  Who is the little Tinkerbell character? 

Are you influenced by Altman, doing a film like this?

Danièle Thompson: You know, it is very hard to know what the influence is.  It is true that we both love American comedies; we love Altman, Woody Allen, Capra and Wilder. This is very much part of my culture, therefore his culture. 

Christopher Thompson: There are also others.  I just talked about this film 2046 there are intertwined stories like this.

Especially à la mode.

Christopher Thompson:  It probably is.  It probably also because we get so many images shot at us day and night that we need to break the narrative.  It is a natural thing to do.

Danièle Thompson: Woody Allen and Altman have done it forever. This is also the tradition in movies.  But obviously the influences you discover them after that they are there. 

Did you think of this film as some way or another?  What I like about it is it sort of has these archetypes of French characters, the thing that you romanticize about Paris and yet they felt very real.  Did you have some of those Archetypes in your mind?  I felt for me from my own experience in Paris it reminded me of that sort of quintessential meetings that you have. That’s what made me connect with it so well. 

Danièle Thompson: Do you think they were very French?

I think they are both universal and very French.  There are certain things about it in the way that women deal with things, and some of the anxiety of the men. Art has a presence that maybe the Americans don’t think about in quite the same way.  Not to be too cliché.

Christopher Thompson: What it has is a tone that’s sort of in between and that is something we talked about when we were writing.  Cécile De France character, Jessica is very much the instrument of that tone.  She has a fairy tale quality to her.  She is sort of this Tinkerbell character that comes and sprinkles something on these people to make them realize something.  She helps them go through whatever they are going through.  The tone is a mixture, it is very real, a real drama, a real comedy, a real something but keeping it a fairy tale quality. 

Danièle Thompson: She is not naïve.  She is not naïve she is…

Wise beyond her years.

Christopher Thompson: In a way yes.  She is so opened that you are right. 

But there is an innocence still. 

Danièle Thompson: Yes, there is innocence but it is not naïveté.

How did you decide to cast her (Jessica)? What was the main reason?

Christopher Thompson:  She is actor.  This is the great things with actors. 

Danièle Thompson: Have you seen her before? Have you seen her in L’Auberge Espagnole (2003), or High Tension (2005)?

Christopher Thompson: When I say she is an actor, she changes I guess you can call her a character actress.  She really does go from one thing to the other. But she really has this quality, which I am looking at this picture of her…the way of looking at the world that some people will say ‘who the hell is this,’ when the telephone is ringing. While other people will say ‘oh who can this be?’

Danièle Thompson: It is a way of looking at things. 

Can you talk about working with Valérie Lemercier?

Danièle Thompson: Well, you know she is a very well known actress but not only an actress she is a well known many things.  She is a director, she has a one women show; this routine of her own that is really ferocious and funny.  She is a clown, the things she does with her face and her body.  Casting her really made the part, pulled that part into the comedy partition of the film.  Because we had talked about it at length Christopher and I, you know it could have been x, y or z.  We had a bunch of actresses around their forties that are wonderful.  The fact that it was her was exactly what we wanted for that part that we knew she was capable of.  She is wild, she has this craziness and she has this clown thing about her.  In the meantime she is also a pathetic character, and a very touching character, she is also a bitch.  She is everything.  So it was wonderful working with her. 

Christopher Thompson: You are right about the comedy part because it is true maybe more so then we realized the film carries a lot of melancholy.  Which is nice but had it been, less of a clownish actress, an utterly a funny person it could have taken the film down to something not deeper, but more serious.  Whether it’s deep and touching as it is that’s wonderful but to keep it light.  That is the difficult part. 

How was it casting this guy (Christopher)? That is the real question.

Danièle Thompson: The funny thing is we had many more characters when we worked on the screenplay.  At one point we sat down one awful morning and decided this is too much.  This why it takes time because you have to digest and sleep over it and go on a holiday and come back and suddenly realize this story is holding and this is not.  So the father-son story came up late in the construction of the story.  Until then, there was no part for him.  So maybe I didn’t realize he pushed it. 

Christopher Thompson: It’s possible who knows, but we will never know will we? The art collector character was lacking something.  I think for us the film was lacking something which was some kind of family…something that has to do with a family something.  We had lots of, the pianist this couple. 


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