Saturday, November 19, 2011

New film, "Cafe de Flore," delves into life of 1950s French mother of son with Down syndrome

From The Toronto Sun:

Cafe de Flore, a human drama crafted by Quebec master Jean-Marc Vallee of C.R.A.Z.Y. and The Young Victoria fame, is obviously not mainstream fare. But it is a great arthouse film.

To reach that status, it is powerful, subtle, poignant, intellectually daring, spiritually arresting and emotionally devastating. It requires its audience to work with the characters and their story. Vallee engages us in time shifts and creates a spiritual dimension that demands a willing suspension of disbelief.

Not even Vallee himself actually believes in reincarnation -- as he reveals in interviews -- but he utilizes the idea here as a storytelling device to probe into deeper matters. So your willingness to go with the flow is critical, and Cafe de Flore flows elegantly into the dark recesses of human existence, especially around issues of parenting and marital stability.

You end up guessing at the plot twists. That is the fun part. You marvel at the characters. That is when the film is more challenging. Vallee, as writer-director, explores the notion that an obsessive mother of a Down's Syndrome child in Paris in the 1950s is somehow connected to the lives of a divorced couple in modern Montreal.

The cast for this Canada-France co-production is absolutely sterling, with a core group leading the way with mesmerizing intensity and dignity. They absorb their characters and captivate us fully, which is necessary if we are to follow the subtle aspects of the film.

With no vanity whatsoever, Vanessa Paradis plays the Paris mother, a dowdy working class woman who sacrifices herself for the sake of an exceptional young boy who has Down's Syndrome. When her abusive husband leaves her, Paradis raises the child with a fierce protective sense that borders on madness. Yet we see and feel her true love.

Kevin Parent and Helene Florent play the contemporary Montreal couple. While he pursues his world-class career as a famous DJ -- music sophistication is as important in a Vallee film as life itself -- his marriage has fallen apart. When we meet him, he is already divorced and with another woman (Evelyne Brochu). His children are not that impressed and neither is his curmudgeonly father.

Meanwhile, Florent's life is in turmoil. She is a successful professional woman but finds herself disturbed by recurring nightmares. Daytime flashes connect her to Paradis and her son.

There is no point, of course, in breaking down Cafe de Flore into its elemental parts and plot tangents. It is not really about story in a straight narrative sense.

Even the title is not literal. While the real art deco Cafe de Flore is one of the shooting venues, along with locales in Montreal, the notion is more about the music it suggests. So the sounds of the past fuse seamlessly on the soundtrack with sounds of the present. It is a metaphor for what happens to the inner lives of the characters.