AVENUE MONTAIGNE — *** — Cecile de France, Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel; in French, with English subtitles; rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, brief sex, ethnic slurs)

"Avenue Montaigne" may not be the lightest, brightest film ever made, but compared to the glum and talky movies most people associate with French cinema, it's downright chipper.

Known as "Fauteuils d'orchestre," or "Orchestra Seats," in its home country, "Avenue Montaigne" features a meddling but well-intentioned and charming heroine as its main character. That may remind a few viewers a bit of "Amelie," although this mostly rewarding comedy-drama is not quite as memorable as that Oscar-nominated 2001 hit.

The chipper woman is Jessica (Cecile de France), who's recently moved to Paris' theater district to help care for her grandmother (the late Suzanne Flon). She's also taken a job in a cafe located next to a theater, whose performers frequent the place, to include mercurial television actress Catherine Versen (Valerie Lemercier).

It's also a place for pianist Jean-Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel) to unwind and escape his marital strife, a subplot that is the best and most rewarding of the film's story lines.

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A subplot about Jessica's burgeoning romance with a businessman (co-screenwriter Christopher Thompson) is less successful. Though one about Lemercier's character does provide an amusing supporting role for American filmmaker Sydney Pollack, who plays an American filmmaker trying to decide whether he should cast Catherine in his latest project.

Also, co-screenwriter/director Daniele Thompson is smart to alternate between the dramatic and comic story elements so the film never gets too heavy. In fact, the film moves along so well that it seems even more brief than its relatively short running time.

"Avenue Montaigne" is rated PG-13 for scattered strong profanity (including one use of the so-called, "R-rated" curse word), other sexually suggestive language (slang), brief sexual contact, and use of slurs based on ethnicity and race. Running time: 101 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com