After a detour to stiff-upper-lip England for “The Young Victoria,” French-Canadian scribe-helmer Jean-Marc Vallee returns to his roots with “Cafe de Flore.” Modeled on his 2005 hit “C.R.A.Z.Y.,” Vallee’s fourth feature is another dense, decades-spanning tale that lets a cherry-picked soundtrack and impressive visual sequences do the heavy lifting. While its parallel stories — of a Parisian mother with a Down-syndrome son in the not-so-swinging ’60s, and a divorced but newly in-love DJ in contempo Montreal — never quite coalesce, this loose-limbed, emotionally complex work should see some Euro arthouse action as well as a respectable post-Toronto local bow.
Pic opens in present-day Montreal, where handsome Antoine (Kevin Parent), a successful DJ in his early 40s, has not only a dream job and home but also two beautiful young daughters (Joanny Corbeil-Picher, Rosalie Fortier) and the love of his life, Rose (Evelyne Brochu), by his side.
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Things aren’t as rosy for the occasionally foul-mouthed, working-class Frenchwoman Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), who has to raise her mentally challenged 7-year-old son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), alone in 1967 Paris (shown in smudgy colors that stand in direct contrast with the crystalline lensing of the contempo scenes).
The two stories unspool side by side, initially through staccato edits and match cuts, such as when a shot of a jet carrying Antoine to his next gig in Europe cuts to a shot of Laurent in Paris looking at a plane some 40-odd years earlier. As in “C.R.A.Z.Y.,” further explanatory flashbacks are seamlessly integrated throughout, while music from several genres and periods acts as glue between the timeframes.
After a somewhat misleading first reel, it emerges that the dark-haired Carole (Helene Florent), initially a mysterious presence seen curling up alone in bed, is the mother of Antoine’s kids, rather than the tattooed, peroxide-blonde Rose. Though Carole, a health freak who’s interested in dream analysis and other esoterica, turns out to be the link between Antoine and Jacqueline, the nature of this connection is something some auds will find difficult to swallow. The fact that Carole is the least developed character of the three doesn’t help.
Scribe-helmer-editor Vallee seems to be coloring outside the lines a bit more than usual, creating almost impressionistic images whose juxtaposition works on an emotional rather than rational level. His adventurousness comes through especially in the cutting, playing around with crosscuts and continuity editing in an attempt to fuse the two stories into a single entity.
But overall, Vallee has taken what made “C.R.A.Z.Y.” so successful, including the use of the title song as a leitmotif, and simply tried to replicate it on a slightly larger scale. Occasionally, similarities between the films, such as the sampling of tracks from Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” are so striking it almost feels like Vallee’s ripping himself off.
D.p. Pierre Cottereau, working in widescreen and often in shallow focus, and regular production designer Patrice Vermette deliver stellar work, while the all-important musical choices enhance the moods perfectly. An early voiceover, however, is entirely unnecessary.
Fittingly for such a music-heavy project, the leads are played by talents better known as singers than as actors; French chantoosie Paradis (“Heartbreaker”) has already shown she’s got great screen presence, while Quebecois folk-rock singer Parent is a natural in his first major role. Large supporting cast, including thesp-playwright Evelyne de la Cheneliere as a friend of Carole’s, also impresses.