[We are back at it after a long hiatus since our first conversation post on Mammoth, but hopefully these will come out with more frequency thereafter. I am sure we do not cover everything there is to be said about Café de Flore, so feel free to extend the conversation in the comment section. Finally, this conversation is all spoilers, we get into the fine details so only read if you have seen the film.]
Synopsis From the director, Jean-Marc Vallée: “Cafe de Flore is a love story about people separated by time and place but connected in profound and mysterious ways. Atmospheric, fantastical, tragic and hopeful, the film chronicles the parallel fates of Jacqueline, a young mother with a disabled son in 1960s Paris, and Antoine, a recently-divorced, successful DJ in present day Montreal. What binds the two stories together is love – euphoric, obsessive, tragic, youthful, timeless love.”
Mike: There are certain films that require discussion upon leaving the theater, it seems impossible to just go on with your day after seeing something like Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore. We have been waiting since Mammoth for the right kind of movie to do a conversation post for and this seems to check all the boxes, from the meaty thematic elements to the open-ended aspects of what exactly happened. I have stayed away from the spoiler thread on Row Three so I am coming to the conversation completely fresh. Of the three of us, I believe I will be the most critical, but it is a fine distinction as, on the whole, I think it is a very good movie. Who knows, maybe my mind will change with this conversation, the more pieces that are put together. I would like to get a general sense of why the film spoke to you guys, because both of you have been praising this film hard.
Bob: Well, Café de Flore goes beyond the definition of a very good movie for me…Not that I think it’s perfect (how can a movie really be perfect with so many possibilities?), but that just about every moment of the film hit me in exactly the right way and at the right time to cause maximum impact. To my ear, it hits all the right notes as an exercise in technical filmmaking, as an inventive piece of art and as something that simply connected to me for a variety of personal reasons. On the technical side, it’s beautifully shot, naturally scripted and contains an abundance of wonderful performances (from first timer Kevin Parent to Vanessa Paradis, but especially all the kids). Vallée proves without a doubt that he is highly skilled when it comes to coaching his actors and letting them know when to go for subtle and when to go big. As a work of art, it becomes something altogether different and original in its approach to its two storylines. It’s impressive enough that he can balance the two, but he does so in the manner of a DJ (just like his male lead Antoine) – moving his overall piece from one side of the mixing board to the other and then cutting between them, mixing them up and bringing them both together towards the end. It’s like the best DJ set ever. Antoine even talks to his therapist at one point about how he loves to bring in silence to his sets because it sets up the whomp that follows and Vallée applies that very same strategy to his movie. This was used to fantastic effect to bring home its theme of letting go since not only will it help to avoid the emotional calamities ahead, but “letting go” will also allow a deeper appreciation of what your current life has to offer.
Kurt: First off, fellas, I am glad that we have resurrected this feature, and since Café De Flore has left Toronto Cinemas after a mere two week run, it seems that this film certainly needs a little help to get recognized outside of French Speaking Canada. So our cause is both fun, stimulating (hopefully) and ah, heck, noble even. OK, down to brass tacks: There is a scene late in the film, when the two story lines start to gel that features the most interesting and sophisticated cross cutting I’ve seen in a film in 2011, perhaps the last ten years even. The DJ mixing analogy is apt, and the emotional beats, in this stretch of the film, are not revealed by plotting information (that is to come later) but rather completely by editing strategy, as if you are being primed by a collection of images and asked to inject yourself into things (Terence Malick actually does a similar, if slightly different riff of this in a different fashion in the construction of a Tree of Life). That the ebb and flow of the editing is actually non-intuitive (pauses and shot lengths) is kind of a small miracle.
Would you like to know more…?