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By Daniel Lammin
25th April 2012

The relationship between cinema and music has always been a complex and rich one, film often influencing great artists to do some of their best work, such as Simon and Garfunkel with ‘The Graduate’ (1967). For his latest film, French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée takes a different approach, letting a single piece of music inspire both the narrative and his style. The final result, ‘Café de Flore’, is an unconventional and unusual beast, and one whose success depends on how far the audience is willing to go with it.

The film covers two seemingly unconnected story lines. In modern Montreal, Antoine (Kevin Parent), a successful DJ, is settling into life with his new wife and two daughters, and moving forward from his failed marriage to Carole (Hélène Florent). In 60’s Paris, single mother Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) struggles to provide a stable and safe home for her son Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who suffers from Down syndrome. For both Antoine and Laurent, they find common solace in Café de Flore, a jazz/dance track that takes them away from the problems in their lives. As tensions escalate between Antoine and Carol, and Jacqueline and Laurent, the stories begin to collide in unexpected ways.


An acclaimed director both internationally and in Canada, Vallée has crafted a very handsome film, bubbling with great energy. His work with cinematographer Pierre Cottereau gives both time periods a very distinctive look (blue for today, sepia for the 60’s), while being shot in a "cinema verite" style, preventing the two narratives from unravelling from each other. He also demonstrates the incredible power music and image can create, particularly with using various incarnations of the title track over the different time periods. Over the two hours, the theme transforms and evolves with the narrative, taking on different and fascinating qualities. The performances from the cast across the board are fantastic. Kevin Parent has a masculine magnetism that gives the film a strong central figure, while the passionate female performances (especially from Paradis) drive the film forward, disabling Antoine and Laurent’s stability, with unexpected results. Vallée wisely gives them much freedom to explore, often letting the camera linger in long takes. There is a natural, comfortable feel to this film.

Jean-Marc Vallée demonstrates the incredible power music and image can create.

It is in this final act of ‘Café de Flore’, however, that the film teeters between success or failure. Trying not to ruin the surprise turns it takes, the film makes an unexpected and unusual genre shift, and one it doesn’t necessarily make successfully. For much of the film, the only link between the two time periods is the title track, and only in the final 20 minutes or so are more links established, in many ways undercutting the realism Vallée had spent so long establishing. For some audiences, the shift might work and provide another layer of detail to the film, but for me, it complicated a film that didn’t need any more complication, and dragged the film out longer than it needed to be.

There’s no denying ‘Café de Flore’ is a well-made and unusual film worth discussing, and is worth seeing for the skill of both the cast and crew. It certainly poses a number of fascinating questions about what true love means, whether we are meant for one person, and the ripples of actions across decades. For some, its leap in genre and (at times) logic might be a stretch to handle, but there is a definite allure to the film that threatens to sweep you up.

RELEASE DATE: 25/04/2012
RUN TIME: 2h 0m
CAST: Vanessa Paradis
Hélène Florent
Evelyne Brochu
Marin Gerrier
Kevin Parent
Alice Dubois
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