Café de Flore
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu, Marin Gerrier 15A cert, IFI/Light House/Quayside/Screen, Dublin, 120 min
JEAN-MARC Vallée, the French- Canadian director of the interesting CRAZY, returns with an undeniably beautiful, exquisitely lush problem picture. The cinematography is to die for. The double-barrelled plot demonstrates great imagination. It’s a shame that it amounts to so little.
This is a hard film to summarise. Café de Flore opens in present-day Montreal, where we meet Antoine (Kevin Parent), a successful DJ. Antoine’s life seems ideal. He has a nice family. His job allows him to travel to exotic locales. But, as the picture unfolds, we encounter various domestic disharmonies. The woman he now loves is not the mother of his children. A past history of substance abuse still casts a shadow.
It is, sadly, hard to care too much about Antoine. His angst too often borders on self-absorption. His conversations with an analyst feel deeply inauthentic. Moreover, the director’s decision to punctuate his story with allusions (shades of CRAZY here) to classic rock albums seems wilfully indulgent. One nod to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon counts as a forgivable lapse. Half-a-dozen begin to speak of a worrying obsession.
The parallel story – eventually loosely connected – concerning the mother of a child with Down syndrome in 1960s Paris is much more effective. Though no great actor, Vanessa Paradis is impressively touching as the woman who, despite the protestations of her awful husband, refuses to put the boy into care and struggles hard to protect him in an unforgiving environment. Kudos should also go to young Marin Gerrier, who invests the lad with character and nuance.
Café de Flore is full of striking images. When Paradis looks to the sky and appears to see an aeroplane from another decade passing over, it’s impossible not to marvel at Valée’s ambition. But the contemporary strand is so achingly hip (did the hero really have to be a superstar DJ?) that you find yourself aching to scream.