Thursday, November 8, 2012

Café de Flore

“I like to cut the sound. It gives more punch to what’s coming,” Antoine (Kevin Parent) says of his DJ-ing style in Café de Flore.

He’s clearly speaking here for director/cowriter Jean-Marc Vallée, who constantly cuts from chaos to quiet to give “punch” to what amounts to a story about how a man who has it all gets to keep it guilt-free.

A 40-ish DJ with an international clientele, a ripped physique, a beautiful house, and an even more beautiful girlfriend, who is, as the obtrusive and unneeded voiceover informs us, “the love of his life,” Antoine is “a man with every reason to be happy and the lucidity to realize it,” as the voiceover unctuously adds. But he’s plagued by nagging guilt over the fact that he’s dumped his gorgeous, adoring first soulmate, wife Carole (Hélène Florent), for his gorgeous, adoring girlfriend, Rose (Evelyne Brochu). As he tells his angry daughter when she acts out her pain over her parents’ separation, he hurts too. After all, “just because I met Rose doesn’t mean that I don’t miss your mom.”

Oh, please.

One of the other two main storylines follows Carole, though she never develops into much more than a highly decorative doormat. The other is about Laurent (Marin Gerrier), a charming little boy with Down Syndrome, and his fiercely devoted mother, Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis). The three stories, which are set in Montreal and Paris, are tied together by the sappy LP of French love songs that gives the film its title—and by a supernatural twist that doesn’t mix well with the realistic tone of the acting and most of the other scenes.

But this is a highly stylized realism, as Vallée keeps reaching into his toybox to pull out certain playthings again and again. His constant cutting between the stories keeps things moving while masking the fact that none of the three would be of much interest on its own. His repetition of dreamy shots of model-perfect bodies underwater makes you wonder if he’s trying to say something—about being in limbo, maybe?—though I wound up suspecting they’re just eye candy. And he keeps cycling back to a car crash sequence to whip up angst and uncertainty (is it a flashback? A premonition? A dream?) before letting it fizzle out like a wet firecracker. Throughout, his characters make pronouncements about the power and importance of music (“Are there songs in your life that make you want to crank it up, to live, to make love?” Antoine asks his shrink rhetorically), their delivery always far more dramatic than their content.

The cast is beautiful and talented, the cinematography is artful, and the direction is strenuously bent on seducing us, but this elaborate justification for male midlife crisis masquerading as a mystical tribute to romantic love left me stone cold. Call it Café de Florid.

Written for The L Magazine

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