out of Five
Running time: 120
Skilfully directed and impressively edited, this is a superbly acted drama that packs a powerfully emotional punch, though a late-blooming plot development ultimately stretches credulity and threatens to undo the film's dramatic impact.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (C.R.A.Z.Y.), Cafe de Flore stars Vanessa Paradis as Jacqueline, a single mother attempting to provide a normal-as-possible education for her Down's Syndrome son Laurent (Marin Gerrier) in 1969 Paris. However, when Laurent befriends a girl with Down's in his class (Alice Dubois as Veronique), Jacqueline finds it increasingly hard to cope with the loss of her son's affections and her jealousy leads to disastrous consequences.
Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated story is unfolding in present-day Montreal, where professional DJ Antoine (Kevin Parent) has left his ex-wife Carole (Helene Florent) and shacked up with his attractive younger girlfriend Rose (Evelyne Brochu). As the couple's two daughters (Joanny Corbeil-Picher and Rosalie Fortier) deal with their new situation in their own ways, Carole finds herself unable to move on and is plagued by mysterious nightmares that she can't explain.
Vanessa Paradis is excellent as Jacqueline, generating an intense, powerful chemistry with young Gerrier that is devastating to watch; in fact, their storyline could easily have merited an entire film to itself, to the point where you occasionally wish that were the case. Parent is equally good as Antoine and there's terrific support from Florent as well as from Linda Smith as Carole's best friend Louise.
The editing is extremely impressive throughout, with Vallee drifting back and forth between the two stories in occasionally dream-like fashion, so that you have to work hard to figure out what's going on, particularly in the present-day section; one clever pairing of scenes sees both Carole and Rose attending similar parties with Antoine, so that for a moment you wonder if Vallee has cast two actresses as the same character, Bunuel-style. He also uses music to intriguing effect, most notably in the use of the title track, which Laurent plays obsessively, over and over again.
The main problem with the film is that your ultimate enjoyment of the film rather hinges on your attitude towards a late-blooming plot development (if, God forbid, there's ever an American remake, this revelation will be excruciating). On top of that, even if you buy into the film's eventual conceit, the consequences are rather dubious and end up having a frustrating impact on the film's emotional climax.
Impressively directed and superbly edited, Café de Flore is an engaging and thought-provoking drama that packs a powerful emotional punch, provided you can handle that plot revelation which could prove a little difficult to swallow.