Boy on the Bus

christopher thompson Boy on the Bus“Hello, uh, bonsoir,” the director Christopher Thompson said last week at a screening of his first film, Bus Palladium, at the French Institute on 59th Street. “This is in English, right? I’m sorry I don’t sound more French. It’s always a disappointment.”

Mr. Thompson, who was born in New York City, grew up immersed in the French film industry. His sister is the actress Caroline Thompson; his mother and sometimes-collaborator is the screenwriter Danièle Thompson; and his grandfather is director Gérard Oury, whose films include 1966’s La Grande Vadrouille (Don’t Look Now—We’re Being Shot At), which held the box office record in France for 40 years, until Titanic usurped the title. Mr. Thompson has done the rounds, working in virtually every role in filmmaking, from actor to screenwriter to editor. His debut film as a director follows a young French band called Lust, about to embark on their first tour. The name makes for an excellent pickup line throughout the movie.

“What is ‘Lust?’” a girl asks the band’s singer as he is putting the group’s poster in a shop window.

“The best band in the world since the Stones before Brian left.”

Mr. Thompson, 41, is laid back, with a few days’ scruff on his face and a mop of gray and black hair. Wearing a T-shirt underneath a blazer with jeans, he has the kind of carefully manicured I-don’t-care-about-my-appearance look that is more characteristic of successful fashion designers. Mr. Thompson has a reputation that is starting to catch on (the audience erupted into applause when his name appeared in the opening credits). Still, for a first film, Bus Palladium is steeped in nostalgia, a story about a group of young people on the cusp of adulthood, trying to maintain their youthfulness. There were a few scattered young people in the audience, but for the most part the crowd at the French Institute was older, a mix of frowning French women in big furs and Americans in puffy jackets, approaching middle age (we overheard one of the Ugly Americans attempting to flirt with a young French woman by complimenting her iPod).

“I’m not the kind of person,” an older audience member said in a Q&A after the film, “at my age, that you want to make money with. I’m wondering in a dollars-and-cents world, has this movie been performing well with young people?”

Mr. Thompson transformed from casual to solemn.

“It is difficult to explain to an adult audience that this is really an adult film,” he said. “The film does appeal to older audiences—when I say ‘older’ I mean ‘over 30’—but it is filmed with, basically, young adults. Or old teenagers. It’s not an easy film to promote.”

Bus Palladium is interested in the American (by way of England) mythology of rock ’n’ roll. The first shot of the film is of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street rotating on a turntable, “Let it Loose” blasting through the speakers. Mr. Thompson made the cast watch the banned documentary of that band’s 1972 tour, Cocksucker Blues, a film that opens with Mick Jagger lying on a bed pleasuring himself.

“Some of the actors had never listened to a Stones record,” Mr. Thompson told his mostly middle-aged audience with some disbelief. “Cocksucker Blues is kind of mythical. It’s interesting to see now. There’s a naïveté to the approach to ‘sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.’ They’re on planes with naked groupies and it’s almost silly now.”

Mr. Thompson’s film shies away from explicitly depicting hard drugs and sexual obscenity, opting to merely suggest the presence of both. Much of it takes place at dawn, as the long night is ending or after the overdose has already happened. Still, Bus Palladium disintegrates into the usual clichés of the “young rock band hedonism” genre. In particular there’s a party scene on a beach where the singer, stoned on LSD, jumps from a cliff into the ocean, which is exactly like a similar scene in Almost Famous. The audience picked up on this, even if Mr. Thompson did not.

“The scene where the singer is jumping off the cliff into the water,” a man asked in an even voice, verging on unimpressed, when the film was over, “was that a tribute to the movie Almost Famous?”

“Oh,” Mr. Thompson said, furrowing his brow. He paused. “Actually, I hadn’t thought of that.”

There is, however, something affecting about Mr. Thompson’s coming-of-age story, more of a touching tribute to rock ’n’ roll’s agelessness than a precious send-up of prolonged adolescence.

“I love these young people,” one person said. He described himself as “almost twice the age of over 30” and had thin white hair. “They make me jealous. I want to be young.”

Mr. Thompson smiled big and nodded his head. “Me, too,” he said.

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