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Review of Café de Flore with Vanessa Paradis
After his witty and entertaining masterpiece C.R.A.Z.Y., Jean-Marc Vallé is back in town with his new work, Café de Flore. In this deeply moving film, the French-Canadian director delivers, with the help of a strong, genuine cast and spellbinding soundtrack, a powerful yet delicate tale about love, soulmates, and the intensity of feelings.
Unfolding within two time-periods over 40 years apart, this non-linear story invites us into the lives of two hyper-sensitive individuals who are defined by the same force: their capacity to love.
On the one hand, there is the affable Antoine (Kevin Parent), a famous Canadian DJ who seems to have it all. Madly in love with the woman of his dreams, father of two beautiful girls, Antoine lives a healthy and comfortable life in present day Montreal. On the other hand, backtrack to Paris of the 1960s, and we meet Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), who, in contrast to the previous scene of domestic bliss, is on the verge of separating from the father of her newborn child. The reason, we realise straight away, is that she has just given birth to another Antoine, this one a Down syndrome baby. Whilst the father wants to avoid becoming, in his own words, “a missionary”, devoted mother Jacqueline decides that she will do everything for her baby to ensure that he lives past the age to which medical wisdom has consigned him. As the introductory narrator so wisely points out, Montrealer Antoine has everything to be happy, and is lucid enough to appreciate his good fortune, whereas Parisian Antoine is not so lucky, but will never be lucid enough to realise how hard he has it.
THE POWER OF LOVE AND MUSIC:
Conditioned as we are to films in which seemingly disparate narratives converge, we immediately seek to link these two stories together. Vallé, however, is not prepared to give us a free ride. The only clue is Café de Flore, the eponymous jazz tune beloved by both Antoines. Indeed, music plays such an important part in this film that it almost deserves to appear as a credited actor. After hearing him play a raucous set in a London club which finishes with a cutting silence, we realise that the absence of music will be playing just as big a role. “I like to cut the sound. It gives more of a punch.” Director Vallé seems to abide by the words of his protagonist; and it works. Characters who find themselves at the height of joy or suffering seem to experience a sonic blackout, making their emotions all the more raw and easy to relate to.
And as we quickly discover, Antoine’s life is not all parties and adoration. The mother of his girls is not the gorgeous woman he is sleeping with. Instead, his first love Carole (Hélene Florent) is hurting in silence, unable to get over the only man she has ever kissed. Antoine is torn between the pain he is causing his ex-wife and family, and the depth of his newfound love for Rose (Evelyne Brochu). Once again, the power of music comes into its own as we realise that Café de Flore by Doctor Rockit is the tune that binds Antoine to Rose as he plays it again and again before he finally decides to leave his childhood sweetheart for her. Yet once united, music is also the force that keeps him bound to Carole. Meanwhile in Paris, lioness Jacqueline is unable to deal with the loss of her son’s wholehearted devotion as he falls for classmate Véro, another little Down syndrome girl.
Unlike 2005 hit C.R.A.Z.Y., Café de Flore is much less of a crowd pleaser. Instead it is an impeccably crafted ballad, which uses stunning photography, beautiful energy and visceral performances to illustrate the multi-dimensional aspects of love, as well as the ties and responsibilities that go with it. If you are prepared to indulge Vallé’s almost cosmic twist, you will find that this poignant film stays with you long after you have left the theatre. After all, as Vanessa Paradis rightfully points out during an interview about her performance in the Figaro, Cinema is not made to be realistic.
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