Music has the potential to be a collective experience, uniting people who are utterly unaware of each other’s existence. One Swinging Sixties lounge tune will connect characters of radically disparate eras and temperaments in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore.
Life will be difficult for Jacqueline as a single working mother in 1967 Paris. Her husband walked out when their son Laurent was born with Down syndrome. Undaunted, she will fiercely dedicate herself to her son, to an extent that might prove too intense.
Four decades later, Antoine Godin seems to have it all. Blessed with two healthy daughters and a blossoming career as a techno disc jockey, he ought to be happy, but isn’t.
Partly this is due to his codependent ex-wife Carole, who resents his prospective fiancée Rose. He met the younger woman in AA, which is both good and bad. In each storyline, a tune called “Café de Flore” will persistently pop up
.Vallée rapidly cuts between the two narratives, unfolding them nearly simultaneously. Viewers have to keep on their toes, even though cinematographer Pierre Cottereau clearly delineates the drab 1960s from the high gloss of contemporary Montreal. Frankly, viewers will need to find their sea legs during the first act, but the bravura work of Vallée, who served as his own film editor and screenwriter, is worth the effort.
Frankly, viewers will most likely be unprepared for Flore, especially if they are familiar with Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. and The Young Victoria. While on the surface, the critically over-lauded former film addressed similar themes of family dysfunction, Flore takes a radical turn into the metaphysical that would be spoilery to spell out in any great detail.
Nonetheless, Vallée develops Flore credibly and organically. The title song, licensed from British electronic DJ and occasional big band leader Matthew Herbert, also travels nicely between the two time periods.
Vanessa Paradis gives a career performance as Jacqueline. It is a complex and emotionally raw portrayal that hits the audience with staggering force. Though thoroughly de-glamorized, the face of Chanel is still quite a striking presence.
Bilingual indie folk-rocker Kevin Parent is also quite compellingly as Godin, but in a less showy way. Unfortunately, Hélène Florent is stuck with the thankless story-facilitating role as the mopy Carole. However, there is an immediacy and vulnerability to Évelyne Brochu’s Rose that is rather shocking.
Granted, Vallée is a name director, but Café de Flore is still the surprise of the year. It is a deep, rich film with whiffs of the otherworldly (but in no way should it be considered a genre film).
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent
Running Time: 120 minutes
Language: French with English subtitles
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit http://jbspins.blogspot.com
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