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Parisian charm City of Light is the backdrop for 12 shining lives

"A venue Montaigne" is a charming ensemble piece that tells separate stories of 12 people whose lives intersect at a cafe on Paris' chic Avenue Montaigne. It's a small movie, as light as a meringue - and just as delicious.

The hustle and bustle of this Paris neighborhood, as well as the backstage mysteries of theater, concert hall and auction house are central to the movie's charm. The many characters meet in one combination after another, almost like a folk dance, revolving around the central character of a sunny young woman named Jessica, an innocent from the country whose wide-eyed wonder and unsophisticated directness bring a fresh perspective to the unhappy artists and celebrities she meets.

That the film works is almost entirely due to freshfaced Cecile De France, the Belgium-born actress with cropped haircut and pixie charm who plays Jessica. The movie begins with scenes of Paris and Jessica's grandmother repeating an oft-told story of her love of luxury and how she forced her way into a job working amid luxury, as a washroom attendant at the Ritz.

Following Grandma's advice, Jessica charms her way into a job as the first female waitress at the Bar des Theatres, a bistro that serves a colorful mix of artists, musicians and stagehands, and is bustling with customers and anticipation as an art auction, concert and play opening are all coming up on the same night.

Daniele Thompson directed and co-wrote the screenplay with her son Christopher, who stars as Frederic, the estranged son of a wealthy art collector. One imagines them using a flow chart to compose the script, tracking the characters and plotting their improbable random meetings in various groupings over the space of three days.

Catherine Versen (Valerie Lemercier) is a neurotic diva, willing to give up her huge salary as a soap star to land a role as Simone de Beauvoir. Classical pianist Jean Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel) is having a midlife meltdown about the suffocating world of classical music performance ("I want to play in a forest, in a prison. . ." he complains). Jacques Grumberg (Claude Brasseur) is a grieving widower who has decided to auction off his beloved art collection.

They and other characters are on the verge of life-changing decisions, and Jessica, making deliveries from the bistro, has an impact on each one.

The film's French title translates as "Orchestra Seats," which better conveys the movie's interesting exploration of the relationship between artist and audience, of the demands of performance and of celebrity.

One could do worse than spend 106 minutes with beautiful people, in beautiful Paris, listening to beautiful music and Jessica's sunny philosophy.

***

AVENUE MONTAIGNE

3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Cecile De France, Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Claude Brasseur and Christopher Thompson

DIRECTOR: Daniele Thompson

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for some strong language and brief sexuality.

THE LOWDOWN: A young woman moves to Paris and has a positive impact on all she meets. In French with English subtitles.

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