Close knit ... Vanessa Paradis and Marin Gerrier form a tight onscreen family.
Taking its title from the musical motif that features throughout - rather than the landmark intelligentsia-soaked cafe in Paris - Jean-Marc Vallee's bold fourth feature juggles two related narratives, 40 years apart, on two separate continents. He's also chosen well-known French-language music stars as his leads.
Vanessa Paradis - a singing star at 14, later an actress, but best known as the long-time partner of Johnny Depp - excels in a role she was seemingly born to play. As Jacqueline, a doting and determined mother to Laurent (Marin Gerrier), a child with Down syndrome, Paradis ditches the trappings of fame in favour of appearing plain and simple.
Striking though she still is, Paradis's interpretation of the role is superb, playing the tough, single mother struggling in a prejudiced 1960s Paris as if her life depended on it. This couldn't be more different from her previous outing, the frothy Heartbreaker.
The film opens with Paradis's counterpart, folk-rock singer Kevin Parent, playing a DJ named Antoine in present-day Montreal. Antoine appears to have it all - including a happy domestic life with a wife and children - yet all is not as ideal as would first appear. Vallee's camera takes us back and forth between Antoine and Jacqueline's stories, which eventually provides a strand connecting both worlds. (The vague link may stretch matters a little too far for some.)
Visually, the dour Paris of 1969 stands in sharp contrast to the lively Quebec today, while musically, the film channels a similar vein to Vallee's C.R.A.Z.Y. (particularly with its use of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon).
Notable, too, is the seven-year-old Gerrier, the Down syndrome sufferer who plays Laurent. The boy is said to have made a lasting impression on his co-star. Together they make quite the self-contained family. Paradis has said Gerrier forced her to dig deep for her performance.
It is a joy to have Paradis back on screen - older, wiser and more expressive than ever. With three other films set for release this year, she appears to be making up for lost time, having largely retreated to raise a son and daughter with Depp. Now on the cusp of turning 40, there's years of experience all bottled up, just waiting to be unleashed. This is a most excellent means of letting some of that energy out.
CAFE DE FLORE Rated MA, 120 minutes, opens Wednesday. Stars Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Marin Gerrier