Movie Review: “Café de Flore”

Written by Melissa MacAulay February 13, 2012

“It doesn’t happen twice in a lifetime…”

Café de Flore is simply a beautiful film. I was more or less captivated from the very opening shots until the closing credits (which, by the way, you should absolutely stay seated for). Everything about it is near-perfect: the storylines are engaging, the writing is inspired, the music is perfect, the characters are real, and the heartbreak is overwhelming. This film is has the power to draw in just about everyone – mothers, fathers, siblings, music-lovers, as well as romantics and anti-romantics alike.

Admittedly, this film first appealed to me simply because of its name. Having lived in Paris for nearly 2 years, I can distinctly remember visiting the Café de Flore on at least one occasion. Situated on a quintessentially Parisian corner along Boulevard St. Germaine, and with its connections to Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus, it is any francophile’s dream come true. It’s a song called Café de Flore, however, rather than the café itself, that served as the inspiration for the film bearing its name. In an interview with A.V. Club Toronto, director Jean-Marc Vallée says of the track: “It’s why the film exists. I’m talking to you right now because of this musical theme that created the theme of the film.”

Fittingly, music plays an enormous role in this film.  Antoine (Kevin Parent) is a successful DJ from Montréal, who has recently left one soul-mate for another. Although Antoine’s two young daughters are struggling to come to terms with their father’s new girlfriend (Évelyne Brochu), it is his ex-wife, Carole (Hélène Florent), who’s left truly grieving over the loss of the only man she’s ever loved. The pain and sadness that Florent brings to her character is simply heartbreaking to watch. Carole is plagued with chronic sleepwalking and recurrent nightmares, compelling her to seek out an explanation for her situation, at any cost.

The film jumps from decade to decade, and the audience is left to piece together Antoine and Carole’s long history, which begins with two young teens who share a common passion for music. Each set of flashbacks is tied loosely together through a particular song, reflecting how powerfully music can remind us of our past.

Before being introduced to Carole and Antoine’s storyline in Montréal, however, we are taken back to Paris in 1969. From here, a separate storyline emerges, involving single mother Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), and her son Laurent (Marin Gerrier). When Laurent is born with Down Syndrome, Jacqueline makes it her life’s purpose to protect her son so that he may outlive his given life expectancy (which would have been considerable shorter than it would be today). Jacqueline loves her son fiercely, and together they play out an idyllic daily routine, which includes taking Laurent to school. When Laurent’s school welcomes a new student, Véro (Alice Dubois), who also has Down Syndrome, Laurent and Véro immediately become inseparable, to the point where Jacqueline must accept that Laurent loves another just as much – or possibly more – than he loves his mother.

Everything about this storyline is absolutely touching – Jacqueline’s utter devotion to her son, their daily interactions amongst the 60s Parisian scenery, and the authenticity of the bond between Laurent and Véro (whose actors, by the way, are just as inseparable in real-life – you simply couldn’t fake that kind of love).

The similarity between the two storylines is evident; both feature characters whose absolute devotion to one other person is, in the end, unrequited. Throughout the film, however, the audience is left guessing at the “real” connection between these two storylines. Only towards the end of the film, however, is the supposed connection between these characters made apparent. To fully appreciate what Vallée intended, it is essential to remain seated until the closing credits have played.

Still, what’s wonderful about Café de Flore is that so much is left to interpretation.  Vallée incorporates many visual details in the film that are at the same time mysterious yet somehow completely meaningful. Ultimately, it is up to the audience to bring their own meaning to this series of events; a view may have any number of possible reactions to this film, each as legitimate as the next.

While I am in no way ashamed to admit that I have shed a tear over many films (some of which warranted the tears, others perhaps not), Café de Flore was the first film ever to make me start crying again as I left the theatre. It is simply a fantastic film. Whether you believe in soul-mates or not, there is something universally relevant in a film about finding – and potentially, losing – the love of your life.

My Rating: 9/10

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About Melissa MacAulay

Melissa MacAulay

Melissa is a PhD student in philosophy. When she is not busy publishing wildly successful books and making earth-shattering contributions to her field, she enjoys travelling, eating chocolate, playing with pugs, and writing film reviews.

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