Written by Nick Bruno. This review has been re-published from the blog The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown.
When writing during PIFF 34 about Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times), I noted that every year there’s at least one film at the festival that seems to come out of nowhere, surprising me to no end and causing me to wonder how it escaped being caught up in the festival-circuit hype machine. This year, Café de Flore is that film.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria), this French-Canadian import had me aware that I was watching a truly great film in the first fifteen minutes, something that always makes me nervous, worrying about the path that the rest of film will take, hoping that the delicate balance struck by the filmmakers doesn’t dissipate before the end credits crawl across the screen.
Café de Flore did not disappoint. Vallée is unapologetic in his attempts to wow the audience with the sheer audacity of how he intends to tell the story. His technique is an invigorating mixture that pulls from familiar scenarios; a man who regrets where his choices have led him, while pushing the tale with a structure that offers unique thrills throughout.
At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to three characters: Antoine (Kevin Parent), Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) and Carole (Hélène Florent). Thanks to the fact that dreams are heavily involved in the story — one of the three characters is a somnambulist — it’s initially unclear if all of the characters are real, due to the disruptive nature of the quick shifts between sleeping and waking states and Vallée’s clever use of differing color palettes. This ambiguity, coursing through the whole of the picture, heightens the storytelling beyond the base realities of the lives portrayed. The result is a film that dares the audience to care; a drama with all the dressings of a tense thriller.
I’ll be very surprised if I am still not raving about Café de Flore at the end of the year. So far, I’ve seen twenty-four of the features programmed for this year’s festival. Of that number, Café de Flore easily rests in the top three overall.
“Café de Flore” screens at the Lloyd Mall 5 on Feb. 13th at 6 p.m. A final screening will occur on Monday, Feb. 20th at the Cinema 21 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets in advance, check out the official PIFF Web site.