Jean Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore is a powerful film about an extraordinary love triangle, that left me feeling inspired on a rainy Monday afternoon.
The film tells in parallel the story of two families. Antoine Godin (Kevin Parent) is a DJ based in modern-day Montreal, struggling to come to terms with the recent separation from his wife Carole (Hélène Florent), while trying to build a new life with the young and nymph-like Rose (Evelyne Brochu). Antoine’s marriage and family were picture perfect: loving, true and the product of a teenage crush with Carole. His decision to walk away and be with Rose is as startling to him as it is to the rest of his family; and has rocked his sense of purpose in life.
Conversely, the story of the film’s second family focuses on a woman’s drive and tenacity. Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) gives birth to the adorable Laurent (Marin Gerrier) who has Down syndrome. Abandoned by her husband and shunned by the public’s ignorance in 1960s Paris, she devotes her life to raising him with love and a sense of self-respect. Jacqueline’s devotion is tested when young Laurent meets Veronique (Alice Dubois), a girl of Laurent’s age with Down syndrome as well. Laurent and Veronique bond instantly and that prompts Laurent to break away from the structure of love and protection that his mother has built around him.
The film’s two plots are unravelled with a tone that is reminiscent of the films by Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga: visceral and poetic, yet with a sense of detached honesty and a conviction as to the plot’s subject matter speaking for itself. The result is a beautifully composed existentialist picture – genre-bending social drama into the territory of the supernatural, or even horror, and backed by a soundtrack of French lounge and stomping electro. The resulting picture suggests that Jean Marc Vallée, who both directs and wrote the film, does a pretty good job. His creative direction is supported by visceral cinematography, snappy editing and strong lead performances; working in tandem to strike the right tone and keep pretentiousness at bay.
While the acting on screen is of a high standard in general, Paradis’ performance stands out amongst the rest, capturing the empowerment, sense of entitlement and vulnerability that is the result of Jacqueline’s devotion. Credit also needs to go to Marin Gerrier, who plays Jacqueline’s son with charming sincerity, and Hélène Florent, who portrays the car crash sentiment of divorce without tiring the audience. If I would search for a weakness in the cast it would be that Evelyne Brochu is perhaps miscasted as Rose, Antoine’s new girlfriend. Her dirty good looks propel the character to the centre of the audience’s prejudices about young husband-stealing women. Judging from the script, Rose is meant to be enchanting, but Brochu doesn’t steer the character too far away from bimbo territory.
Perhaps unwillingly, Jean Marc Vallée has created a film about perception – examining the human need to ascribe meaning to situations so as to find strength to act. Jacqueline is empowered by her mission to give equal opportunities to a child with Down syndrome and Carole’s perception of Antoine as “the love of her life” completely debilitates her from moving on. More than once in the film, Antoine leans against the window frame and sighs “what the f*** am I doing here”, unable to discover a new narrative for his life. When an answer emerges as to Antoine’s purpose, the love triangle is resolved but the objective truth of such an answer may be irrelevant.
Café de Flore is in cinemas 11th May 2012.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Jean-Marc Vallée
Stars: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu, Marin Gerrier
Runtime: 120 min
Country: Canada, France