Café de Flore is a labour of love by writer/director Jean-Marc Valee (C.R.A.Z.Y). It is an account of two very different love stories – tales separated by different characters, countries and time periods. In spite of all this, an overarching feeling of loss, an intense rawness and a bittersweet tension link the two parts together.
In Paris 1969 we are introduced to an overprotective, single mother named Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) and her seven-year-old son who has Down’s syndrome (Marin Gerrier). Laurent and his mother are initially inseparable as the latter is trying to give the former a normal life and ultimately prolong it. Things change however, when he meets and falls in love with fellow sufferer, Véronique (Alice Dubois). The performances by all three are perfect. You can really sympathise with the mother who is left distraught by the idea that she may lose her charming, little boy.
While the first narrative was about people who had a multitude of reasons to not be happy, the second one could’ve almost been a fairytale. Here we meet Antoine (Kevin Parent) a middle-aged DJ who is living an enviable life raising two gorgeous daughters with his equally pretty girlfriend (Evelyne Brochu). But life is not always a bed of roses because he still thinks of his ex-wife (Hélène Florent), his first love and original soul mate.
The film is an ambitious undertaking as multiple flashbacks and crosses are interwoven together, which eventually tease out this unconventional love story. Unfortunately, the link between the two plots feels rather tenuous and contrived. It means the viewer will have to suspend belief and ignore their gut feelings of confusion, as they have to sit back and wait as each layer is eventually revealed. Basically, it is a great idea that could have been executed in a better way, had some of the ambiguities been ironed out earlier on.
The cinematography is rather beautiful. We have the staid early period contrasting with the high-octane club environment of the present. Another key point in the film is the soundtrack because music by Pink Floyd, Sigur Rós and The Cure are used to create ambience and in the case of the latter, to also evoke nostalgia. The song Pictures Of You stirs up painful memories for the man who fell in love with the track at the same point as he fell for his high-school sweetheart. Moreover, the film’s title comes from a song loved by the DJ and young boy.
Café de Flore is ultimately a jarring melodrama that makes for rather challenging viewing. At times unsettling, it often fails to provide an easy answer to your questions. Instead it is a mystical take on the power of love where the viewer has to fill in the majority of the gaps. In short, it’s an emotional tale and curious mystery, where complex human emotions collide, in much the same way as love.
Originally published on 17 April 2012 at the following website: http://lipmag.com/arts/film-arts/film-review-cafe-de-flore/
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