Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: "Café de Flore"

Café de Flore is the new film from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée. After 2009's The Young Victoria, he returns to his French roots - more akin to his 2005 film C.R.A.Z.Y. The film, which stars Kevin Parent and Vanessa Paradis (partner of Johnny Depp), is told through two narratives. It is not clear how the two stories are linked until the film's final arc. I feel this is a mistake, and I would have preferred to leave the answer up to the viewer's imagination. The two narratives share a common theme: love. In modern day Montreal we meet a man who is happily in love, and in 1969 in Paris we meet a woman who shows undying love for her son with Down Syndrome. I feel inadequate, but I was unable to see a link between the two stories based on the film's title. Peter Howell, a critic for the Toronto Star (whose reviews I often find hard to stomach), reveals that Café de Flore originates from Matthew Herbert (also known as Doctor Rockit), a British electronic musician who created two versions the song for the film. Café de Flore is a reference to the Parisian bistro of the same name. Café de Flore is a beautifully confusing film. The film moves from one narrative to another with ease, yet the stories feel as disconnected as they are united. There is a certain aha! moment that comes during the film, and that is why I critique the conclusion. I wish that Vallée had let the viewer control the film's ending because I feel the story lost some of its lustre and power. It is a powerful and moving film with fantastic performances from Parent and Paradis. There is so much fodder for argument in the film. My friend and I discussed the entire story for almost an hour afterwards. I wish that Jean-Marc Vallée had used better judgment and self-editing in the conclusion because the conclusion dragged on and the thrill of the story and the power of the love lost its sheen ever so slightly. Café de Flore is a mesmerizing and surprising film from yet another Quebecois director who brings Canadian cinema to international audiences.

Antoine (Parent) first met Carole (Hélène Florent) when they were both teenagers. Music helped them fall in love. Twenty years and two daughters later they are divorced. He has fallen in love with Rose (Evelyne Brochu) and they have plans to marry. His eldest daughter Juliette (Joanny Corbeil-Picher) is constantly playing music that reminds him of her mother. And to make things worse, his father loves Carole so much that he is unable to accept that she is no longer part of the family. Through all this, Antoine is still happy and in love with Rose, though he is deeply connected to Carole. Jacqueline (Paradis) is a single mother of Laurent (Marin Gerrier), a boy born with Down Syndrome whose father was unable to accept him. Her life revolves around her son and it is obvious that she would do anything for him. It is her duty to ensure that he grows to live beyond age twenty five, the life expectancy for those born with Down Syndrome. Jacqueline is crushed when Laurent meets Véro (Alice Dubois) at school. Véro also has Down Syndrome, and Laurent soon confesses that he is in love with her. These two stories are uniquely and magically connected. They are both stories of love, but also stories of letting go.

Vanessa Paradis is mostly known for being the girlfriend of Johnny Depp. She has appeared in roughly a dozen films, but she is probably considered more of a singer, with a 2011 international tour. She is the emotional centre of the film and she breathes such life into the entire story. I have not seen Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y., which won an armful of Genie Awards in 2006, but I would hazard to guess that The Young Victoria is not symbolic of his vision. So much happens in Café de Flore and it takes some time to catch your breath. The film moves back and forth effortlessly between stories set in different decades in Montreal and Paris, and it can be so infuriating trying to figure out how the two are linked. I will say again that I wish that Vallée had more faith in his audience. The final scenes of the film play out like the viewer is so incompetent that the magic of the film must be revealed for us. This is like a magician performing a trick and then showing us how he did it. I am surprised the producers did not force him to do it! Café de Flore does so much well and I do not want to harp on a single negative element (unlike the ending of Martha Marcy May Marlene, which completely ruined the film). The stories are beautifully woven together and the acting is fantastic. Jean-Marc Vallée's Café de Flore is an emotionally complex and sometimes baffling film. It will both confuse and enchant you.

My rating: 3.25 stars out of 4.

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