Cafe de Flore.... A child with Down Syndrome stars in this new movie
Cafe de Flore is opening April 25, 2012. I hope it gets great reviews. The movie revolves around two main characters, but the real star of the film is a seven year old boy named Marin Gerrier. Marin just happens to rock an extra chromosome. This movie, set in Paris, sounds like a film I am really going to enjoy.
Vanessa Paradis as Jacqueline with on-screen son Laurent (Marin Gerrier) in Cafe de Flore.
Singer, model, actress and partner of Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis goes back to basics as the mother of a boy with Down syndrome in Cafe de Flore. Far from the catwalks and red carpets of Paris and Hollywood, she reveals why her maternal instincts had to be left at home.
IN HER new movie, Vanessa Paradis plays a woman living in Paris in 1969. But there's no '60s chic or retro glamour in her role: she is a figure defined by her will, her drive, and her love for her child. Finding her character, Paradis says, was about discovering a woman whose life was pared down to the barest of essentials; the last thing she needed was a chic '60s wardrobe.
Cafe de Flore, written and directed by French-Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee, intertwines two stories, set decades apart. There is Jacqueline, played by Paradis, focused completely on her young son; and there is a Montreal DJ, 40 years later, embroiled in a tale of love and loss, second chances, soul mates and shared passions. Each story, we discover, speaks to the other, in ways that only gradually become clear.
Paradis has received rave reviews for her fierce, physical, tactile performance. "Isn't she wonderful?" says Vallee, on the phone from Montreal. But he admits he didn't think of casting her at first. "I thought, hmm, I'm not sure, she is so beautiful, and this character was the opposite." Meeting Paradis to talk about the movie, he was relieved to see that she had come prepared, in the sense that "she looked like a normal person, not a fashion girl".
What really won him over was that there was something of Jacqueline's stubborn determination in her approach to winning the role. Paradis understood the script and the character, and she was prepared to audition to convince him she was the one. "She showed me how much she desired that part," Vallee says. "And I fell for that. I said, 'Forget about the audition, let's just work together, you have so much passion in your voice'."
Paradis — a French star since she was a teenager, as both singer and actress, a model and face of Chanel, an epitome of glamour, the long-time partner of Johnny Depp — is in many ways an emblematic public figure.
But she's also quite a retiring character. She is articulate and thoughtful; she carefully balances her work as a singer and actress, and until recently has made films only every two or three years.
The woman she plays in Cafe de Flore has a young son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier) with Down syndrome. She splits up with her husband, who has no interest in his child; she has no real support from anyone or anywhere. She is told that children with Laurent's condition have a short life expectancy. Her response is to throw herself wholeheartedly into transforming her son's world, into making him resilient and strong, and giving him, Paradis says, an extraordinary childhood.
"Jean-Marc told me, at the first meeting, that he didn't want a fragile or a vulnerable figure," she says by phone from Paris. The character's circumstances might have been bleak, but he wanted strength. Yet, although she understood Jacqueline's intense feelings, the character's impulses were often the reverse of hers; she had to play against all her own instincts as a mother (she and Depp — Paradis denied rumours of a split earlier this year — have two children, a 12-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son). If her child were to trip and hurt his knee, "my reaction would be, 'Oh, come here and hug me', I would cuddle him. But for Jacqueline, who wants to make her son tough and ready for life, that was out of the question. I had to say, 'Come on, get up, be strong, be a man'."
Finding the way to become Jacqueline, "to discover the look, the voice, the walk, the demeanour, the behaviour, the way she speaks", she says, "I started to copy Jean-Marc and his way of talking".
She needed a masculine perspective to her character, who was both father and mother. "And Jean-Marc is such a passionate person and filmmaker, he never stops being creative, and adding little things here and there, 'Why don't you try this, why don't you try that'. I wasn't portraying a fun woman, but it was so much fun to do, it was so strong and powerful."
Laurent and Jacqueline are a world unto themselves, until another child comes into Laurent's life — Veronique, a young girl who also has Down syndrome. The children become instantly devoted to one another, and don't ever want to be separated. Their closeness becomes disruptive in school, and this new situation is a challenge for Jacqueline. Suddenly, everything she has set in place no longer works, and her response is sudden and dramatic.
Working with Gerrier, who has Down syndrome, was a wonderful experience, Paradis says, and she is convinced he made her better as an actress. "He's a very strong personality, he's a very smart little boy. He has such a great sense of humour and he is fast to react, and he has a grace that you can't act. It was just there and it's so natural. It was tremendous to have him as a partner. He was sometimes stubborn and we had to work around it, Jean-Marc and I. And Marin's parents, a wonderful family, gave us all the insights, all the ways to work with him and get along with him."
There were times, she says, when she and fellow actors and crew had to respond to something unexpected in Gerrier's performance. She's anxious to emphasise that, making a film, "every situation has its complications, and with grown-ups, with mature people, there's always good and bad. But the good was such a high, so beautiful, you just work around the complications".
When Paradis was Marin Gerrier's age — seven — she made her first appearance on TV. It was on a kids' talent show called L'Ecole des Fans, a comparatively benign program in which children between the ages of three and 10 appeared, answered some questions and sang a song by a guest musician. Every child ended up getting the same score. She sang a song from a French musical, Emilie Jolie: she was careful, and a little nervous, and it wouldn't have been particularly obvious at that point that she had a future as a performer.
She was, however, a devotee of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and American musicals; she has said that she never dreamed of a career or of fame, but simply of being on stage. At 12, she recorded a song for junior Eurovision, but it was at the age of 14 that she was well and truly launched; she sang Joe le Taxi, a catchy, wistful number about a music-loving taxi driver that went to No.1 on the French charts for 11 weeks, and was a hit all around Europe.
Her first album did well. In 1990 she worked with the legendary Serge Gainsbourg; two years later she went to New York to make an album in English with Lenny Kravitz. In her first movie, Noce Blanche, directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau, she played a troubled teenager who embarked on an affair with a teacher; she won a Cesar for most promising actress, and her cinematic career began. Recently, she's begun to concentrate more on movies. She has two French movies coming out this year, and begins shooting another film in June.
Cafe de Flore takes its title from a song that punctuates the film. Laurent is devoted to the 1969 song and listens to over and over again; it's equally significant, decades later, in the lives of others.
Vallee, whose movies are strongly influenced by music, shares their passion: he listened obsessively to a particular version of the song for three years. ''I was moved by it so much I was saying to myself, 'I am going to make a film about this song,'' he says, and he starts to hum it.
The characters grew directly out of the music; he set one of the stories in Paris because it's a place that he associated with the accordion melody in the song. He had an image in his mind of ''a mother at school in the morning having this ritual with her son, of dancing for five seconds or 10 seconds only and saying goodbye''. Thinking about her further, he decided that this character was ''a girl who has nothing, she is on a mission from God to give her kid the most extraordinary childhood''.
Paradis was aware that she was part of a film in two halves, and fascinated to see how her scenes fitted in. ''They shot the Canadian part first, and then there was a month break and Jean-Marc came to Paris with a 20-minute edit of what they had shot in Montreal.'' He showed it to the French cast and crew. ''It was amazing to get the sense of what film we were in,'' she says.
''Of course we put it aside and went into our story and completely focused on what we were doing in Paris in 1969, but it was such a plus, and so generous of Jean-Marc to show us something that was not finished.
''But we could see where he was at. We all gathered around a small monitor and saw those images and stories and emotions, those different generations, suffering and loving.''