Film review - Café de Flore

Love, loss and the transformative power of music are the central themes of Café de Flore, Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest film venture, starring Vanessa Paradis and Kevin Parent.

Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria) interweaves two stories, encompasses two continents and tracks back and forth between the past and present. Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), living in one of Paris’s shabbier suburbs in the late 1960s, is bringing up Laurent (Marin Gerrier), a boy with Downs syndrome. In modern day Montreal, Antoine (Kevin Parent), an internationally celebrated DJ, is dealing with the fallout of his divorce from childhood sweetheart Carole (Hélène Florent). For the film’s first half there is no evident connection between the two narratives except that seven-year-old Laurent and Antoine share a love of music.

Antoine has embarked on a passionate relationship with Rose (Evelyn Brochu) and they plan to marry. He has to contend with his own feelings of guilt at leaving his lifelong partner and the disapproval of his family and two daughters. Carole, however, is secretly convinced that Antoine is her soulmate and will eventually come back to her.

On one level, Café de Flore is about confronting our fears and relinquishing our desires. Vallée reminds us that we cannot control our destinies. When Laurent becomes overly attached to a female classmate, Jacqueline’s attempts to sever the bond ends in tragedy.  Jacqueline’s obsessive love for her damaged son is vividly contrasted with Carole’s heart-rending attempts to let go and move on. In her struggle to come to terms with the pain of loss, Carole starts to believe that she has a connection with Jacqueline in a past life.

Vallée’s editing style is fast and furious, a deluge of crosscuts suggesting parallel lives, frequent flashbacks, and a deliberate blurring between fantasy and reality. Distorted images reflect the characters’ inner turmoil and the film’s pulsating soundtrack adds an extra layer to the narrative.

The central performances are terrific. Florent perfectly captures Carole’s anguish which is, at times, almost unbearable to watch. Parent impresses as the charismatic, DJ, loved by two women but wrestling with his own demons. Paradis effortlessly conveys a mother’s protective love for her child that verges on the destructive.

Not everyone will engage with Café de Flore’s denouement, with its hints of the paranormal, and the final scenes tie up the loose ends too neatly but, despite these flaws, it’s hard not to admire Vallée’s flair and distinctive style of filmmaking.

Originally published by Cine-vue