Sunday, 29 April 2012

Cafe de Flore

Cafe de Flore, the latest film from from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) is one of those films where you have to try harder than most to suspend all levels of logic and reality to accept the film's baffling conclusion. Or maybe not, depending on your belief system. Unfortunately however the resulting story was very much one of two halves. A beautiful story, set in 1960s Paris, about the relationship between a mother and her son with Down syndrome, and the trials and tribulations which come along with that; most notably the boy falling in love with a little girl with a similar condition.

While the other seemingly unrelated story takes place in modern day Montreal about a perfectly healthy man who is suffering the consequences of leaving his childhood sweetheart, whom he married and had two daughters with, for another woman. They're linked, and in more ways than a simple tune which shares the title of the film, and you'll probably never guess why until you watch the film. Even then you might justifiably think it was all a little convoluted. Which is a shame, and here's why...

Had the film been entirely set in the 1960s narrative with the wonderful Vanessa Paradis as Jacqueline, the mother of Laurent (Marin Gerrier) it could have been one of the most moving and beautifully acted period dramas seen in a cinema this year. This really touching story about the lengths a mother goes for her child, that admirable level of commitment seven days a week, nearly 24 hours a day. Then the struggles she faces when she realises the son isn't as overly depended on her like he may have once been, after he meets his new friend. Vallee should be applauded for how he judged this portion of the film, and the level of sensitivity demonstrated with a delicate subject matter at hand.

Unfortunately he decided to bring the modern day narrative into it, which on its own isn't a bad film either, just maybe not quite as interesting. The relationships between the characters and the personal journeys each were set on, was sort of how Terrence Malick's Tree of Life should have progressed if you strip it away of the Douglas Turnbull theatrics - which I'm still a fan of, CGI dinosaurs and all. Or a really pretentious Love Actually. On the face of it, it seems like a man dealing with a mid-life crisis while his ex-wife Carole - played wonderfully by Helen Florent - tries to pick herself up and move on from the fact her husband has found another soul mate.

Visually it can be quite harrowing and uncomfortable to watch, a lot of incoherent night time shots and haunting shots set within the dreams of Carole's character as she comes to terms with the existential conclusions she draws from her dreams and why these two completely different stories are linked through existence. The film's conclusion will either leave you feeling a bit bothered, confused, baffled, or angry at how naff you think it is. The wonderful thing about this film is that it will spark a varying degree of emotions from its audience, but the cynic inside me just feels the director had two good scripts and didn't want to make two short films out of them.

I particularly enjoyed the use of music throughout the film, obviously the song Cafe de Flore featured continuously in a billion* *several different remixes depending on what period the story was set in as a way of linking it across the narratives. Also in the soundtrack was one of my favourite bands of all time, Sigur Ros and even Pink Floyd graced my ears again to reminds myself it's been too long since I've gave Dark Side of the Moon a play on the ipod. Maybe lost a bit of points for the appearance of Snow Patrol in the background, but at least it wasn't yet another repeat of Chasing Cars.

Final Thoughts
Cafe de Flore was two potentially great dramas trying to masquerade as one great film, but the heavy handed management of the film's revelations left it being an okay, reasonably decent film at best. Which is a shame because the acting from both the modern day and past set of truly likeable characters is tremendous, the dynamic and relationships between everyone is handled with grace and the recreation of 1960s Paris is bloody wonderful. It's not that I didn't get the ending, I just didn't believe in it and this film didn't do enough to change that opinion, and perhaps there lies the problem.


Cafe de Flore is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from Friday May 11th, 2012. 

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