Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Café de Flore

Reviews - Café de Flore

Café de Flore

Reviewed By John Stakes

Café de Flore
Café de Flore
The expression “one giant step for mankind” or, more accurately here, a giant leap of faith, came to mind last Sunday when the denouement of Jean-Marc Vallee’s 2011 romantic drama “Café de Flore” finally arrived for another substantial and expectant Keswick audience.

Long before the film’s conclusion however the original screenplay (also by the director) had already leapt back and forth twixt France and Canada as we were asked to follow two separate unfolding dramas each in its own time frame, each peppered with its own set of flashbacks. Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) was now a single mother living with her Down syndrome son Laurent in 1960s Paris following her husband’s desertion. In 2011, hugely successful Montreal DJ and
father of two Antoine (Kevin Parent), having deserted his wife Carole (Helene Florent) in favour of the much younger Rose (Evelyn Brochu), is apparently struggling to understand himself ( “I don’t deserve to live” he tells his therapist).

For most of the film there is nothing to link the two stories save parental separation and a Parisian chanson which is remixed as chill-out music for the Montreal setting. Jacqueline and her son prove far more interesting than the sub Dallas soap opera persona of Antoine, a man completely devoid of any endearing quality and personality, and more than surviving on his wealth and sex appeal. He spends an inordinate amount of time mooching about in his search to discover his inner self and occasionally muttering fatuous nothings to his counsellor and girlfriend.

Close to the breadline, hairdresser Jacqueline has to deal with her seven year old son’s growing affection for a similarly afflicted little girl Veronique. Jacqueline was determined, by exposing Laurent to all manner of stimuli, to ensure he lived beyond his expected shortened life-span. She loved him to bits of course, but in an increasingly banal script did she have to proclaim the word “love” more times than Ed Milliband’s “one nation” last week?!

Lovers of M Night Shyamalan’s films (“The Sixth Sense”) would no doubt be happy to spend their time trying to work out the “big twist” before it is revealed. This reviewer felt that, despite the manipulation and a smoke and mirrors mosaic style of editing, there was little to savour (contrary to the majority of the audience) as each story developed. Yet again the children acted the adults off the screen. Apart from their contribution it was far from the “electrifying and multilayered experience” as one critic described it. Paradis and Florent were solid and for the most part believable until their stories merged.

There was much blurring of the lines between time and memory as if Vallee were trying to create some transcendental world in which we could lose ourselves. He almost lost this reviewer. And rarely have sex scenes so brazenly been included merely as time fillers and substitutes for a drop of decent dialogue. Following a few deliberately tantalising but tenuously contrived links between the two stories (thanks to Caroline having premonitions and consulting a medium despite the sound advice from her best friend) we eventually moved to the denouement.

In the final reel (will this phrase soon become extinct?) we learn that the Parisian trio have been wiped out in a car accident when Jacqueline commits suicide with Laurent and Vero on board (why, apart from the fact that three were needed to die for the sake of the plot would she kill Vero?). At the same time Caroline, now on drugs and having learned from her medium that Antoine is no longer her soul mate and something awful is to happen, re-enters Antoine’s home. Here Vallee’s manipulation reaches its own climax too as we cannot tell at this point if she is to kiss or kill him, or herself, or all of them, or tell him she’s overdosed.

The final twist for this reviewer (appreciating that the ending lent itself to multiple interpretations) was that the Canadian characters Caroline, Antoine and Rose are respectively the re-incarnations of Jacqueline, Laurent and Vero! Their fate (death) would have been the same but for Caroline’s decision to give up her longing to remain Antoine’s soul mate. So they all lived happily ever hereafter did they? If so - tosh. One can only speculate what must life have been like if Jacqueline and family were themselves reincarnations? If Caroline was merely “dreaming” the Parisian story the “twist” explained nothing: it merely underlined the absence of any honest connection between the two stories, and the glue for the whole pack of cards edifice was no more than Vallee’s fondness for filming Rose in a variety of not unpleasant top shelf poses.

Another film to divide audiences but over sixty percent voted in favour. It earned no less than thirteen nominations for the 2012 Genie Awards (Paradis won best actress) and was entered in the 2011 Venice Film Festival. At least there were no hypocritical and cruel clergy this week but it did nothing to advance the cause of re-incarnation. Whatever else, Vallee’s sixth film could not be dismissed as “bland” as his fifth effort the 2009 “Young Victoria” was described, despite the credentials of its screen writer Julian Fellowes. In “Café de Flore” there was plenty to talk about but not much to savour.

Next Sunday sees the screening of the Hungarian film “The Turin Horse”, from acclaimed director Bela Tarr who says it will be his last. Let us hope not.

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