Juxtaposing two heartsick families in Montreal and Paris, Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée is back with Cafe de Flore: an intense, emotional journey into the idea of obsessive love.

On the surface, Cafe De Flore is, quite simply, a film about love – that between a man and a woman, and that of a mother and son. Though superbly shot, and complete with an exquisite soundtrack, it unfortunately fails to live up to the grand scale of the complicated many-stranded concepts laid down behind it.

Written and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (the man behind The Young Victoria and C.R.A.Z.Y., one of the most successful films to ever come out of his native Quebec), the first thing that hits home about Cafe De Flore is the sheer scale of the ambition behind it. Set over two different families, in two different countries, in two different time periods – and even two different states of consciousness – the film jumps, bounces and skitters between familial life in present-day Montreal and 1960s Paris.

First, we are shown 39-year-old Antoine (Kevin Parent), a successful international DJ living in Montreal with his pretty elfin girlfriend Rose (Evelyne Brochu), two nice kiddies, and a rather nice house to boot. You think he’d be a pretty content guy, right? Wrong. In between jetsetting all over the world, playing music to crowds of thousands and having steamy sex with his missus, Antoine spends a good deal of time moaning to his therapist about the guilt he feels surrounding his ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent), mother of his children and his first love, whom he unceremoniously dumped for younger model Rose. Unsurprisingly, both his parents and his daughters (not to mention heartbroken Carole, who is tormented by sleepwalking and unsettling dreams) clearly resent this decision, and though Vallée paints some aesthetically beautiful slow-motion snapshots of the relationship between Antoine and Rose, it’s still hard to work up much sympathy for his plight.

The second narrative strand follows single mother Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) as she endeavours to bring up her young Down’s syndrome son Laurent in ‘60s Paris. Already this story holds much more promise than Antoine’s tedious mid-life crisis, and there are moments of real tenderness and flawlessly acted affection between mother and son as Jacqueline battles to overturn others’ prejudice against Laurent’s condition, and sacrifices everything to give him the best possible life she can. But when Laurent falls in love with Véronique, a fellow classmate who also has Down’s syndrome – consequently breaking away from the intense, almost claustrophobic love he shares with his mother – Jacqueline becomes consumed with jealousy.

Vallée uses a well-chosen set of music to link the two stories, with the title lounge track ‘Cafe De Flore’ first acting as Laurent’s favourite record in Paris, and later set to a chillout beat played at the moment of Antoine and Rose’s first meeting in Montreal. The rest of the soundtrack is exceptional, with names like The Cure, Sigur Ros and Pink Floyd creating a soulful, heartfelt mirror to the film’s poignant events. But music aside, what’s the underlying connection between two such disparate sets of characters? Well, as you might expect, you’ll have to watch to find out.

That said; you might be somewhat disappointed once you do. A plot twist towards the end seems both rushed and unsatisfying, failing to really address the complex emotional issues Vallée had been building up until that point – and in addition, throws in a seemingly bizarre arc of clunky cosmic mysticism that is out of place with the rest of the human drama-orientated plot. The supposed ‘fantastical odyssey on love’ promised in the film’s tagline falls rather flat when taken into account that this spiritual aspect only really comes into play in the last ten or fifteen minutes.

All in all, Cafe De Flore is a film that’s definitely worth a watch, though not one that pulls off everything it sets out to achieve. The story is for the most part compelling, the performances well-acted and cinematography lavishly crafted, and there are scenes that create a genuine sense of emotive poignancy and compassion – but don’t expect to leave the cinema with any great sense of epiphany.

Written by Charlotte McManus

About Charlotte McManus

Editor for and Freelance writer - The Creator's Project, SUPERSUPER!, Don't Panic, FAULT, Flux, Who's Jack & more.

Posted on 25/05/2012, in Film and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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