Sunday, 15 April 2012


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

When a film rests so heavily on a 'big reveal', it is hard to discuss that film without unintentionally – or intentionally, such is the wont of some reviewers – spoiling that reveal. So it is with Cafe de Flore, the new kaleidoscopically structured, parallel narrative feature by French-Canadian writer-director, Jean-Marc Vallee.

Set in modern day Montreal and late 1960s Paris, Cafe de Flore tells the story of seemingly unconnected lives whose connection, of course, cannot be revealed here, suffice to say the third act reveal will leave you either floored or disappointed.

And while I originally felt the latter, having being teased and intrigued throughout, a second viewing – perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention the first time? – with that twist already known, left me admiring Vallee's treatment and intent, if not completely satisfied with the explanation.

In 2011, Antoine (Kevin Parent) is about to turn 40, and he's happier than he's ever been. A successful club DJ travelling Canada and the world, Antoine has two daughters and a new, younger wife, Rose (the Julie Delpy-esque, Evelyn Brochu).

His ex-wife, and mother of his daughters, Caroline (Helene Florent), isn't in such a happy place. Antoine is the only man she has ever known and loved – the film flashes back to their teen romance – and she believes he'll return to her, they're soulmates after all. Aren't they?

Caroline has also been experiencing bouts of sleepwalking and strange dreams about a little monster. A result of the occasional joint before bed, or a symptom of something deeper?

In the film's parallel Paris-set narrative, Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) is raising her young son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), on her own; her husband abandoning the pair not long after the boy's birth and the discovery of his Down Syndrome.

Jacqueline is a lioness of a mother, doing all in her power to ensure her son has the best possible future, one which she hopes will exceed the medically predicted life expectancy of 25.

Paradis and Gerrier beautifully portray this mother-son relationship – walks to and from school, songs on the swing, the constant playing of Laurent's favourite record, Cafe de Flore – which comes under threat with the arrival of Veronique (Alice Dubois).

Veronique also has Down Syndrome, and the two children become fast friends when she enrolls in Laurent's school. Suddenly there is another woman in the young man's life, and Jacqueline is no longer the centre of her little man's world. Strangely, Jacqueline's reaction is less than supportive.

Music is an integral part of the film, just as it is in life -- it's the basis of Antoine's profession; it's what placates Laurent -- and the Cafe de Flore instrumental track, which weaves its way through Vallee's film, is essential to the story on several levels. But I'll say no more on that.

What I enjoyed most about Cafe de Flore, other than the audacity of the film's frenetic first act, were the smaller, more human moments: the eldest daughter's silent dislike of her father's new bride; the best friend of the wronged wife who hates Antoine more than Caroline does; the father-in-law who is visibly upset that Caroline is no longer his son's wife.

It is these moments which stay with me, and allow me to embrace and recommend Cafe de Flore. That third act reveal still didn't work for me second time around, but the emotions -- rather than the mystery -- did.

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