An odd mixture of themes, moods and storylines, Café de Flore nevertheless manages to be a stylish entertainment, even if certain of its plotlines indicate that it could have been much more.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee, who made the amiable coming-out-of-the- closet comedy C.R.A.Z.Y . a few years ago, tells two stories, one set in Montreal and one in Paris, and part of the suspense that drives the film is figuring out how they are related.
Without revealing any spoilers, let me just say that he doesn’t ever spell it out fully (although I have a theory I’d love to talk over with the director), but don’t leave until the credits are over because there is a clue in the final photomontage. However, the fact that this reveal, or lack of it, bothers me after seeing the film is a testament to how well made a drama it is. If I hadn’t connected with it, I wouldn’t have cared.
The Canadian story focuses on Antoine (Kevin Parent, a pop star making his acting debut) who, judging by his house, is the most successful DJ in history. Not long ago, he left his wife, Carole (Helene Florent), his high school sweetheart whom he always believed was his soul mate, for Rose (Evelyne Brochu), a gorgeous blonde. His two daughters with Carole are unhappy about it all, and Carole is quietly going crazy, sleepwalking and seeing visions; but otherwise, his life is perfect. And it certainly looks perfect – devotees of Real Estate Porn will love this film, in which both Antoine and Carole live in huge, gorgeous houses with wood paneling/and or chic contemporary furniture. Antoine even has a pool (the better for him to fantasize about swimming nude in) and a fireplace.
But all is not perfect, and he goes to a shrink (who also has a very large, well- furnished office – this movie is a great commercial for Montreal) to talk about his guilt about leaving Carole.
The other storyline features Vanessa Paradis as Jacqueline, the single mother of a boy with Down’s Syndrome in Paris in the late 1960s.
Paradis, who was a sexy teen singer years ago, has been best known in recent years as Johnny Depp’s longtime girlfriend and the mother of his children (the two split up in 2012). I haven’t seen her act since Girl on the Bridge in 1999, in which she was mostly just a (very) pretty face. I was pleasantly surprised by her work here: Paradis walks away with the movie and is utterly convincing and compelling as a strong-willed, religious woman devoted to making her son the best he can be. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, this drive to help a child with Down’s achieve his potential would have been revolutionary anywhere, since even in the US children with Down’s were very often institutionalized at birth. In France however, attitudes were even more negative toward those with Down’s.
It’s lovely to watch her confound everyone’s expectations for the boy and create a beautiful life for the two of them. The film comes to life emotionally and dramatically whenever Paradis is on screen, and I hope that this film will jump start her acting career and launch her as a serious dramatic actress.
But each of the storylines needs an ending, and the ending to Jacqueline’s tale is frustrating, as she goes from likable-eccentric crazy to dangerous, tragic crazy.
While I enjoyed watching the stylish angst of the Canadian characters, Jacqueline’s story was far more moving and had more depth. It’s hard to figure out what motivated the director to combine the two stories, which was something I wondered about throughout the film.
However, in spite of its flaws, the film is briskly paced and well acted by all. If you’re looking for a stylish, grown-up entertainment, Café de Flore will fit the bill.