By Don Simpson | December 25, 2012
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu, Marin Gerrier, Alice Dubois, Evelyne de la Chenelière, Michel Dumont, Linda Smith, Joanny Corbeil-Picher, Rosalie Fortier
In present-day Montreal, Antoine (Kevin Parent) has recently divorced Carole (Hélène Florent), with whom he now shares custody of two daughters (Joanny Corbeil-Picher, Rosalie Fortier). Despite his failed marriage, Antoine’s life is seemingly perfect. A jet-setting DJ on the verge of turning 40-years-old, Antoine has already fallen madly in love with a beautiful young blond, Rose (Evelyne Brochu). Other than occasional hauntings by the specter of addiction, Antoine is of perfect health which helps him maintain an active sex life with Rose.
Antoine and Carole’s modern day lives are cross-cut with the early days of their relationship when they were young goth-punks in love. You see, Antoine and Carole were presumably soul mates for the first twenty years of their relationship. So, what went wrong? Was Rose’s temptation (which I will refer to as “The Flight Attendant” dance) too enticing for Antoine to refuse or were other forces at work? We are told that Antoine has left one soul mate (Carole) for another (Rose) — but can someone really have two soul mates in one lifetime?
Carole is obviously still trying to come to terms with Antoine leaving her. She is haunted by vivid dreams of Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) single-handedly raising a son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), with Down’s syndrome in 1960s Paris. Jacqueline is determined for Laurent to grow up to be as high-functioning and “normal” as possible; she refuses to send Laurent to an institution with other “Mongoloids” and “retards,” so she hires various tutors and sends Laurent to classes to ensure that he can keep up with other kids his age.
Then, at age seven, Laurent falls in love with Veronique (Alice Dubois), who also has Down’s syndrome. Veronique not only distracts Laurent’s attention away from Jacqueline, but Laurent’s intense love for Veronique threatens his chance at continuing with a “normal” education.
A parallel soon develops between Jacqueline’s inability to let go of Laurent and Carole’s inability to let go of Antoine; both Jacqueline and Carole are smothering their true loves to disastrous proportions. Eventually, Carole recognizes that her dreams of Jacqueline and Laurent must mean something — but what?
Like Cloud Atlas, the puzzling non-linear narrative is held together by songs that possess inherent relationships with characters’ memories. Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”, The Cure’s “Pictures of You” and “Faith”, and Sigur Rós’ “It’s You” all carry a hefty significance for Carole and Antoine, as well as their daughters; there is also one recurring song — Matthew Herbert’s “Cafe De Flore” — that forever binds Antoine with Laurent.
The nice and tidy conclusion of Café de Flore does come off as being overly contrived — and there is a bit of expository dialogue that over-exposes the relationship between Carole’s dreams and reality(s). It is as if writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée assumes that the audience would never get the true meaning of the film without spelling it all out for us; but the true testament to Café de Flore‘s fortitude is that the greatness of the first two acts withstands the crushing blow of Vallée’s patronizing over-explanation in the flawed final reel.