The film heart wrenchingly explores the theme of various types of love across multiple characters in various circumstances in modern day Montreal and Paris in the 1960’s. In Montreal we’re introduced to a thirty something DJ, Antoine (Kevin Parent), who is recently divorced from his high school sweet heart Carole (Helene Florent), with whom he has two daughters, and is dating new girlfriend Rose (Evelyne Brochu). In Paris we follow Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) as she cares for her son with Down syndrome Laurent (Marin Gerrier) who’s developed a crush on Vero (Alice Dubois) who also has Down syndrome. We move back and forth in time and place, even flashbacking to when characters first meet. Much like the recent work of Terrence Malick, the narrative of the film is unimportant though. What is important is the over whelming emotion that drives the film and the characters as they exist in this incredible world that Vallee has created.
Using all the directorial tricks at his disposal, Vallee has crafted a visual and aural masterpiece. He uses jump cuts, cuts freely between time periods and even uses surreal imagery (like characters floating in clouds). In a film that takes its title from a song, Café De Flore’s use of sound and music is as stunning as its images, and combines to create the world in which the characters inhabit. The characters themselves and their relationships are all richly drawn out by Valle’s dialogue and the excellent performances from an ensemble cast.
Moments like when Antoine’s daughter tortures him by playing songs that she knows reminds him of her mother or the father’s stern look of disapproval as Antoine’s gaze lingers on Rose for a moment too long during an alcoholics anonymous meeting are so well captured and performed that the film feels like a patchwork assembled of great, human moments.
The first two thirds of the film are a masterpiece. So rarely are all the aspects of cinema (the image, the sound, the characters, the narrative) so well assembled that when they bring them together like the first two acts of Café De Flore does, it’s a miracle. That’s what makes the end of the movie so incredibly disappointing. As if not satisfied to keep the film on a purely emotional level, Vallee makes an unnecessary and ultimately foolish effort to connect the stories narratively with some mystical nonsense that only adds to the running time and does a lot of damage to the heart of the film. The ending for the Paris story continues the downward spiral and though it’s supposed to be tragic, comes off as cynical and incredibly disappointing.
With its deeply flawed third act aside, Café De Flore is a stunning, rich film. Beautifully shot, well-acted and brilliantly directed by one of the most interesting film makers in modern cinema, it’s only a few, major, points shy of a masterpiece.
Café De Flore will be theatrically released in Australia on April 26 2012 through Icon Films.