CAFÉ DE FLORE. Starring Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Evelyne Brochu and Helene Florent. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. 120 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (Strong sex scenes and themes).
This is a film to surrender to if you can rather than detach yourself from and analyse the plots. Because there are plots, two of them. If you are alert to music, clothes and fashions as well as makes of cars, you will soon realise that one of the stories takes place in Paris in the late 1960s. The other story is contemporary. Set in Canada. We are introduced to the central character in each story with an extensive explanation which sets a tone for our feelings and response.
This would be all right if each story were self-contained. But, they are not. The film, edited by its director, Jean-Marc Vallee, moves constantly between one and the other (and the stories move around in time as well). Are there connections?
The discarded wife in Canada looks like the mother in the Paris story. The song Café de Flore recurs, as do other songs in each story, the songs becoming something like themes for particular characters. They also evoke memories of past experiences. The Canadian daughter uses music to goad her father about his breaking up his marriage.
Towards the end, the ex-wife consults a medium and there is discussion about soul-mates in life and love, as well as possible links with (reincarnation?) soul-mates living in other times and places. These are evocative suggestions rather than logical arguments – and may be hard to accept by those who would prefer some clear reasoning rather than mystical intimations.
Kevin Parent is Antoine, turning forty. We are told he exudes happiness. But, he is in therapy, is leaving his devoted wife and daughters, wants to marry a pretty young woman, half his age, who is in love with him. Depending on how much we identify with the ex-wife and her pain, Antoine becomes less and less sympathetic. This is familiar material, worth dramatising nonetheless.
But, it will be the Paris story which commands our attention and feelings. Jacqueline (a fine Vanessa Paradis) gives birth to a Downs baby and her husband abandons them – he says he doesn’t want to spend his life as a missionary. The film traces Jacqueline’s devotion to her son, Laurent. She has a moment in Church when she realises that Laurent is the mission and meaning of her life. At seven, he is enrolled in a school for ‘ordinary’ children, managing generally but not quite. Jacqueline could not do more for him, lavishing her love. Laurent deeply loves his mother. When he becomes attached to another Downs child, Vero, literally holding on to her, it is a challenge to Jacqueline who realises but refuses to face the fact that she eventually has to let him go. The child actor is wonderful and this story, though sad, is often exhilarating.
The mystical suggestion is that Laurent and Antoine are soul-mates. Not sure that many would want to spend time reflecting on this. So, staying with the stories themselves and their unfolding dramas, there is a great deal to interest and to enjoy.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out April 26, 2012.