CAFÉ DE FLORE
Written and Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu, Marin Gerrier
Ambitious concepts about love transcending time periods seem to be taking Hollywood by storm – mostly by way of foreign filmmakers. And it’s quite the romantic undertaking for directors to communicate these existential ideas to the masses. Montreal based writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée succeeds in translating these dramatic notions in CAFÉ DE FLORE, a film about the connective power of love through time and space. Simply put, this is elegant, ethereal, exquisite filmmaking with a jaw-dropping finale that will haunt you long after the credits roll.
In the present day, we first meet handsome and successful forty-something DJ Antoine (Kevin Parent), his younger flaxen-haired girlfriend Rose (Evelyne Brochu), and his two teenage daughters at his modern Montreal home. Antoine, whose father is a recovering alchoholic, is recently divorced from his high school sweetheart Carole (Hélène Florent), who suffers from sleepwalking and chilling nightmares. Now he’s on the brink of a life-changing event, but their elder teen daughter Carole and Antoine’s father stand in the way of his happiness.
If that’s not enough, Vallée fuses another similar love triangle into the mix. In 1960’s Paris, working class Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) has just given birth to Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who has Down’s Syndrome. After her husband leaves, she answers the call to be Supermom to her son – who, at the time, was not expected to live long. Not only does this drive her to be over-protective of him, but he becomes her husband substitute. Paging Dr. Freud! Things reach a fever-pitch for Jacqueline when at seven-years-old, Laurent announces that he is in love with a fellow classmate with Down’s. Unfortunately, this is the catalyst for Jacqueline’s unhealthy transformation from overbearing mother to scorned lover. And how these two unique stories fit together is nothing short of magical.
CAFÉ DE FLORE presents themes and romantic notions that are part of such resplendent cinematic endeavors as Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 and the Tom Tykwer/ Wachowski Starship collaboration CLOUD ATLAS. I dare say this film does so in a better fashion than CLOUD ATLAS, as we don’t have to wade through heavy-handed symbolism and Christ metaphors to get to the crux of the story. Love is the eternal struggle; it’s up to us in our present forms to honor and respect it to foster its growth. Vallée (a triple threat here as he’s also the editor) connects the two protagonists’ stories in a fluid, fairly straight-forward manner, cutting back and forth to the shared experiences of the two time periods. Even if you were to put the events in sequential order, the film would still be an interesting character study. It plays like a lilting melody, mirroring the film’s fantastic soundtrack filled with tunes from Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros, and The Cure. And trust me when I say you’ll want this soundtrack in your life immediately.
However, there are a few times when the record skips, causing us to struggle to regain our footing in the realm of these parallel lives. Musical cues and loud sound effects are overly emphasized, leading to confusion as to where we are headed and how these sequences all tie in together. By the third time you see that shot of the plane in the sky, you’re fatigued.
Nevertheless, this film is filled with much more mirth than madness. Paradis turns in an amazing, heartfelt performance as a domineering, distainful mother of a special needs child. While most of us would agree she takes her love of her kid to a dangerous extreme, her vulnerability and accessibility is what draws us in, helping us feel the immediacy of her struggle.
CAFÉ DE FLORE is now playing in Miami and opens in New York’s Village East and in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Monica 4-plex in Santa Monica; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; Laemmle’s Town Center 5 in Encino; Edwards Town Center 6 in Irvine on November 16.