At a Montréal public grade school, an Algerian immigrant is hired to replace a popular teacher who committed suicide in her classroom. While helping his students deal with their grief, his own recent loss is revealed.
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(Read the full review at nickplusmovies.blogspot.com)
Jean-Marc Vallée returns to his beloved Québécois roots with his latest work, "Café de flore", one of the many films that screened at TIFF back in September (and that I was lucky enough to see). The story is composed of two interwoven narratives that-- only at first glance-- seem completely unrelated to one another.
The first story is set in present-day Montreal and centers on a recently divorced father of two girls, Antoine Godin (Kevin Parent), who leads a successful life as a professional DJ. Despite having found true happiness in his relationship with his girlfriend Rose (Evelyne Brochu), he feels a little remorseful for having left his ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent), for whom he still cares deeply. Antoine understands that she continues struggling to move on with her life, heartbroken. And to make the situation in which they find themselves even more difficult, their eldest daughter persistently plays their nostalgic love song with hopes of reuniting her parents.
The second story is set in Paris in 1969 and focuses on Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), a self-sufficient, loving single mother who becomes the embodiment of perseverance and selflessness as she promises to devote herself both physically and spiritually to her son Laurent, who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. She spends every minute of spare time with her beloved young boy with the goal to elongate his limited life expectancy. One day, when Laurent begins to be infatuated by Véronique, a new girl in his class-- who, incidentally, also has Down syndrome-- Jacqueline is struck by an overwhelming feeling as she fears that her inseparable bond with the only person she loves will be be lost with time.
Up until the very end of the film, it seems like the only link between both stories is the music the characters listen to (the jazz album "Café de flore" appears in the second story while a certain remix is featured in the first one), but as we progress further into this mystical mystery, we learn that there is something much deeper tying together the characters and their stories of love and loss.
Knowing that "Café de flore" would be composed of intertwined stories, I was initially a little reluctant to seeing it and very worried that its structure would collapse within the first few minutes of the film. To my pleasant surprise, this modern approach to storytelling proved to be ultimately rewarding. I believe credit is due to the film editor, who is-- believe it or not-- Jean-Marc Vallée, again. It's nice to hear that he had control of almost every visual aspect of his own work of art. With Vallée's perfectly orchestrated editing, the audience is able to follow the story without ever sensing an abrupt switch between story lines. In the film's entirety, not once did I feel that some scenes were fragmented or disjointed from others. Vallée always progresses deeper into his creation by carefully and seamlessly shifting between narratives just at the right time, creating a smooth, fluid tempo. Briefly, everything flows like a river.
Just like in "C.R.A.Z.Y.", music is a vital element to this film. Jean- Marc Vallée selects many tunes with ethereal, ambient qualities to match the profound thoughts and feelings of all the characters. While he features some more Pink Floyd ("Speak to Me/Breathe"), he makes of Sigur Ros's "Svefn-g-englar" the film's most haunting musical piece-- by far.
There are far too many impressive performances in "Café de flore" to name. Vallée must be what one would call an "actor's director", because he seems to continuously squeeze out the most confident, natural performances from all of his actors-- young or old-- in order to achieve his goal to craft a realistic family drama. He even went to the lengths of finding two children who have Down syndrome in real life for the roles of Laurent and Véronique (these are two "performances" that will make your jaw drop). This is proof of his everlasting adherence to realism as a filmmaker.
In sum, "Café de flore" is a sensual, deeply touching chef-d'oeuvre that will have you shivering every minute in pure emotional awe. It never comes across as overly sentimental, but rather genuinely heartfelt. I can't recall the last time I found myself on the verge of tears while simultaneously smiling at the bittersweet beauty of a film. Come to think of it, there isn't a single movie from 2011 that I could recommend seeing more than this one. I believe it's an essential viewing for anyone who has felt the most fundamental of human emotions. (That means you... I hope)
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