Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fauteuils d'orchestre ("Orchestra Seats")

It is a very odd analogy, but as I was coming out of this movie I was thinking of the Wagyu steak (the one I didn't have when I went to Auckland) as a metaphor for this movie. To quote Wikipedia, the steak is known for its "marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness". The film also had the "meat" of its story marbled, albeit by the various love stories rather than by fat.

The title refers to the scramble that people go to when they go to the orchestra: dissatisfied with the seat they're allocated, they spot a seat closer to the front, and then another to the point they're in the front row and so close they can't see anything. So, the theme of the movie is about finding a comfortable place and being satisfied with it. The metaphor of the chairs breaks down a little, as two of the main characters are actually on stage rather than merely trying to get close to it. Jean-Francis is a world class piano player, worried that by playing in an orchestra in a fancy theatre to a fancy music, the music has lost touch with any kind of reality. He'd far rather play in a forest, a hospital, to audiences who don't like classical music - so that he has some ability to show it is not all snooty and elitist. Catherine has the opposite problem: she plays to a populist crowd by being the central character in a very popular French soap. She also stars in a farce by Feydeau - a good choice of playwright since his plays were dismissed during his lifetime as being "light entertainment" - but what she really wants is to star in a serious movie, as Simone de Beauvoir, maybe.

A third character, Jacques, has been a man of industry, who has built up a massive art collection - each piece is a "twig" to create a sort of beaver nest against boredom - it has been endlessly entertaining for him, but he has reached that point in his life that he is more conscious of its end than its passing. It is time to dispose of his past.

Connecting them is Jessica - she's a young woman who has come in to the city, it isn't really clear why until right at the end. But she gets a trial period at a cafe which has never in its life hired a woman: it is in the course of this trial that she meets all the other characters, as the cafe is a sort of melting pot for the area. I'm pretty sure I'd have fired her: she has to deliver a snack to
Jean-Francis and, presumably, go back to work. Instead, she hears his confession and then tells him her life story, after warning it is a long one. She is able to work this magic with all the characters in the movie, except her boss in the cafe.

But love, in its various manifestations, is a major motif
in the movie. The whole action of the movie is caused by Jessica's love for her grandmother, who could never afford luxury so pushed her way in to work in it. When Jean-Francis wants to give away his fame, the question of whether his wife loves him or just his position in the world comes to the fore. Jacques has only had one love story - with his deceased wife - but the love we see rejuvenated in the movie is between him and his son, a cranky university professor (who must be doing something right, as he bids 4 million Euro on an art work).

The action takes place over just a couple of days; the climax is the simultaneous premiere of Catherine's play,
Jean-Francis' performance and auction of Jacques' art. It is a very French movie - of course, the accordian music at the beginning and the many shots of Paris make this clear, but in addition, it seemed to have a very French style to it.



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