EMMA WILKINSON reviews Café de Flore, on limited release at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Jean-Marc Vallée has taken on a pretty gargantuan task with Café de Flore. His essential thought process seems to have been to use swathes of characters to represent most modern-day problems he can think of. Complicating this recipe for confusion, he’s also pitched his different strands of story across two continents and placed them several decades apart. His ambition should be applauded – but in reality, his execution is less than convincing.
What remains unclear throughout Café de Flore is Vallée’s overall point. At any given moment in the film, it is really the audience’s own guess as to whether his primary focus is with showing the difficulties in coping with Down’s syndrome, insanity and obsession, the superficiality of Catholicism in modern-day Canada, the potential existence of soul-mates, or the simply the merits of Robert Smith. Some of these strands seem designed to give context to the lives of the myriad of characters. Not being explored to their full, however, they end up a bit disappointing.
The fragmented style of the story initially seems appealing, but it becomes clear that there is a surplus of short bursts of information, but not enough of an overall backbone. A longing for answers is a predictable outcome of Vallée’s mysterious style of story-telling, so the lack of a significant resolution is frustrating. This patchwork plot comes across like Vallée aimed to throw vast quantities of ingredients together to create some sort of filmic Pavlova, but somehow miscalculated its structural integrity, and instead ended up with a bit of an Eton Mess.
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t any redeeming features that make Café de Flore something worth seeing. Many of the acting performances were really commendable – in particular, the interaction between Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) and her Down’s syndrome-afflicted son Laurent (Marin Gerrier) was undeniably moving. Antoine (Kevin Parent), on the other hand, was much less appealing – his general beauty may have beguiled women in the film and audience alike, but his propensity to whine over first-world woes seemed unlikely and unnecessary.
In essence, Café de Flore represents the general Canadian confusion it depicts. In style and ambition it verges on the American, yet its gratuitous nudity and indulgently accordion-infused soundtrack show pervasive French side to it – resulting in a lack of a clear outcome. Vallée has chosen a range of interesting, viable topics for his film, but has spread his attention to them too thinly. He has thus succeeded in creating something fascinating, but essentially frustrating.