Movie review: Cafe de Flore depicts parallel love stories, tied together by time
Ways of the heart provide the theme of this celluloid puzzle from Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallée
BY JAY STONE, POSTMEDIA NEWS DECEMBER 1, 2011
Café de Flore (In French with English subtitles)
Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Helene Florent, Evelyne Brochu
Directed and written by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Running time: 120 minutes
14A: Parental advisory: nudity, sexual content, adult themes
Four stars out of five
Love is a puzzle, but never more so than in Cafe de Flore, a delirious conundrum by Quebec filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée that blends memory, music and deep attachment into a romance spanning decades.
This isn’t an easy film to understand, but it’s a simple one to luxuriate in.
It tells two stories whose connection is the central mystery, although it turns out to be no mystery at all.
That is because it’s about the various ways of love, which are much the same whether they’re in present-day Montreal or in Paris 40 years ago.
In the current story, Antoine (charismatic Québécois musician Kevin Parent) is a successful, healthy man with a beautiful girlfriend and two lovely daughters.
“A man with every reason to be happy and the lucidity to realize it” a voice-over tells us, rather charmingly.
Antoine is a DJ who travels the world, playing in slick, glitzy clubs and returning to sexy Rose (Evelyne Brochu), who is the second soulmate in his life.
He is separated from his first wife, Carole (Helene Florent), a slightly mystical beauty who smiles with a secret understanding. Carole is an idealized ex, a woman who thinks her husband’s new lover is alluring (“a fresh spring blossom”) and dismisses her friend’s loyal critiques about her alleged “fat ass.”
But Carole wanders in a mystical haze, devastated by the loss of her love. She sleepwalks, and has druggy reveries about driving in a car with a monster.
The second story is set in Paris in 1969. Jacqueline (a deglamorized Vanessa Paradis, the gap-toothed waif who is Johnny Depp’s real-life amour) has given birth to Laurent (Marin Garrier), a loving child with Down syndrome. Jacqueline is ferociously devoted to him.
They play together, she defends him against bullying, and she angrily insists that he stay in his regular classroom at school and not be sent to an institution.
“I won’t place my son with retards,” she says.
There is little she can do, however, when Laurent, all of 7, falls in love with his classmate, a Down syndrome girl.
They cling to one another with a frightening strength; soulmates of a different sort, or maybe not so different.
Vallee is a visual storyteller who joined memory with music in the coming-of-age-film C.R.A.Z.Y to stirring effect (his second film, the historical drama Young Victoria, was more conventional.)
In Cafe de Flore, he is plunging into visceral connections that float through silences, swim underwater in silent pools, jar you with quick cuts, and then join on some unseen level as dreams and fantasies drift into one another.
We might go to sleep in 1969 and wake up in 2011, faces replacing one another in a misty memory, but ears cocked to hear familiar songs. “I like to cut the sound,” Laurent says about his DJ technique.
“It gives more punch to what’s coming,” and Vallee does the same thing, creating montages linked by their emotional colours.
The dreamy music — Pink Floyd, the Icelandic group Sigur Ros — is dominated by a sweet tune called “Cafe de Flore”, taken from an old album of love themes called Music To Remember Her.
The secret of Cafe de Flore seems to come well into the third act, but the movie doesn’t cheat.
As in the 2005 film Cache, Michael Haneke’s elusive allegory of revenge and regret, we’re set up for a denouement that has a profound resonance.
It tells us (spoiler alert) that love never dies.