Urban Cinefile
"I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara, as the Sundance audience did, will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba - will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents. "  -Paul Berman in slant.com on The Motorcycle Diaries
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday February 1, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In 1969 Paris, Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) gives birth to Laurent (Marin Gerrier) who has Down syndrome. She is determined to bring up her son as normally as possible. She loves him deeply. In 2011 Montreal, Antoine Godin (Kevin Parent) and Carole (Helene Florent) have separated after Antoine falls in love with Rose (Evelyn Brochu). Apart from the predictable tensions in the entire Godin family, Carole is experiencing increasing inner turbulence, including sleepwalking and recurring nightmare-like visions. After a visit to a medium, Carole begins to suspects she has some spiritual, metaphysical connection to the past.

Review by Louise Keller:
Music and sound is used in an integral way by writer director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) in this film about fate and two parallel relationships from different time frames. Vallée is the filmmaker who brought us CRAZY in 2005, a memorable coming of age story with conflicts of father son relationship that used both Patsy Cline's title song and Aznavour's music to great effect. Café de Flore is a far more challenging film with more obtuse themes and a structure that keeps its audience on its toes.

In the opening scenes we meet Antoine Godin (Kevin Parent) in present day Montreal on the eve of his 40th birthday. Life is good for Antoine, who has no financial worries, adores his wife Rose (Evelyne Brochu) and two daughters. As he dives in the swimming pool, silence is used as a powerful breaker to the action and the reality. But there is more complexity to Antoine's perfect life as we discover, when we meet his sleepwalking, depressed ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent) and learn how music triggers memories and emotions from earlier days.

Forty years earlier in Paris, the prospects for Laurent (Marin Gerrier), a young boy suffering from Downs Syndrome, are quite different from those of Antoine. But, Laurent has the love and support of Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), his devoted mother, whose marriage crumbles under the strain of the disabled child.

The narrative constantly jumps from one time frame to the other as well as flashbacks within each reality. At times confusing, the characters and timeframes mesh and interlock and we get involved in both stories. Love, destiny and dark clouds swirl together ominously as resentment, communication breakdown and desperation shake hands.

Paradis is haunting as the desperate mother whose life is turned upside down to nurture her son while Gerrier gives a faultless, naturalistic performance as the Down syndrome boy. Godin is suitably complex if not especially likeable but his relationships with and between the two women in his life are fascinating. Often jumpy and often confusing, scenes seem to springboard in every direction. Antoine confides in a psychiatrist; Carole sees a psychic, revealing her recurring nightmares; Rose is at her wits end as she is confronted by antagonism. Meanwhile, Jacqueline, who is insistent her son receives a normal education, is struggling to cope with the increasingly difficult demands, when Laurent becomes hysterically attached to Véronique (Alice Dubois), another disabled child.

Vallée brings forth many good ideas, but audiences may not warm to his vision. There are many conflicts to grasp and Vallée demands a leap of faith to ensure we are with him for the long haul as the two stories divided by 40 years play out. While the last climactic scenes in which answers are suggested partially satisfy, the pay off is not complete. The Café de Flore soundtrack however (named for the famous St Germain café), is one of the film's highlights.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Ambiguous and complex, Café de Flore is a fantasy about love - and not just the romantic kind. That is what makes it so challenging and opaque, because the parallels Jean-Marc Vallée presents are not comparable. There is the mother-son love and the romantic love, but he intertwines them in a Gordian knot.

The film follows the filmmaker's 2009 historical drama, The Young Victoria; he's versatile.

Flitting back and forth between his protagonists in different time frames, Vallée makes it hard work for us, but his natural flair for cinema is such that we forgive him and always re-engage. Besides, there are plenty of elements to hold our interest, not least the presence of Marin Gerrier, playing Laurent, Jacqueline's (Vanessa Paradis) Down syndrome son.

Gerrier's performance is so visceral and authentic we can't imagine he's acting. This increases the emotional punch of the entire film, especially when he meets a Down syndrome girl his age Veronique (Alice Dubois), who is equally riveting. Their youth and their emotional intensity hits us with considerable force.

The performances are all outstanding, with Vanessa Paradis emotionally eloquent in a demanding role and Helene Florent striking as Claire, the ex wife who is more than usually troubled after the separation, when mysterious forces present themselves.

Made with great intensity and attention to detail, the film asks us to take everything quite seriously and pushes its fantasy through a naturalistic prism. It's a difficult film to review without revealing some of the key elements that make it so intriguing. But this intrigue is short lived; the film's resolution is slightly muddled and its residue is faint. It's like a puzzle the filmmaker wants to present as much for his own amusement as for our amazement.

I should say something about the title: Café de Flore is a famous café in St Germain des Pres (Paris), which serves great hot chocolate among many other things. It was the inspiration for an album of romantic songs. Laurent is addicted to the music and when he (frequently) demands of his mother, "Café ..." he means the music, not the drink.

Email this article

Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

(Canada/France, 2011)

CAST: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Evelyne Brochu, Helene Florent, Joanny Corbeil-Picher, Rosalie Fortier, Evelyne de la Cheneliere, Emily Vallee, Chanel Fontaine

PRODUCER: Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin

DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Vallee

SCRIPT: Jean-Marc Vallee


EDITOR: Not credited

MUSIC: Not credited


RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020