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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Cafe de Flore' a frustrating stretch

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Special Photo Vaneesa Paradis stars in "Cafe de Flore."

Cafe De Flore

(R)

2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars

With a concept that is beyond ambitious, "Cafe de Flore" (named after a song featured in it and not the famous French restaurant) is a mess, but it's a fascinating mess. Shooting for the stars with a narrative structure that is an amalgamation of "Six Degrees of Separation," "Magnolia," "Babel" and "Cloud Atlas," writer/director Jean-Marc Vallee's reach far exceeds his grasp but he's managed to include just enough golden nuggets of inspiration to make this a must-see for fans of non-linear experimental film.

Taking place in present day Montreal and late '60s Paris, it gets all of the technical aspects right. Montreal, with its relatively affluent characters, is crisp and clean and often looking like an extended fragrance commercial. The Paris footage -- dingy, dank and color neutral -- reflects the mindset of its financially and emotionally challenged characters.

In addition to the title track, Vallee includes a couple of songs by The Cure, lots of techno, industrial and house and samples heavily from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." It's been reported that Vallee had also wanted to include Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" but singer/lyricist Robert Plant nixed that request after composer/guitarist Jimmy Page approved it.

The nature of the nebulous plot requires long passages of ultra slow-motion, frantic editing, fractured, minimalist dialogue and lots of dream sequences. In "The Godfather II," Francis Coppola limited his shifting of back and forth between the two time frames to less than a dozen. Here Vallee does it a dozen times before the opening credits have finished; to say that it is annoying is an understatement. In addition, it's not necessary and actually detracts from the finished product. If Vallee had focused more on content and less on style, this could have a minor classic. As is exists now, it's little more than a curio.

Vallee's principal Achillies' heel is with his screenplay. He's got two sets of characters with nothing in common but divorce and a shared language. With a narrative this fragmented and artsy, you need more than that to make a firm or lasting connection. Even the most patient of audience members will throw up their hands in frustration trying to figure out the overlap and when Vallee finally suggests what it might be in the closing scenes, you'll want to hop on a plane to Europe, seek him out and slap him silly. It's beyond a stretch.

The film should be of particular interest to people with Down syndrome or parents with Down children. Two major juvenile characters in the Paris portion of the film have the condition and each delivers a stupendous performance. Among the handful of love stories strewn throughout, theirs is also the most touching and heart-wrenching. Because of a violent scene toward the end as well as adult nudity and drug use throughout, it is highly recommended that parents consider this film's "R" rating to be hard.

Presented in French with occasional English and English subtitles. (Adopt Films)