by Tony Dayoub
After opening throughout most of the U.S. at the end of last year, Café de Flore finally arrives in Atlanta today. The dark, romantic fantasy, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, has a distinctly Euro vibe that belies its Québécois origins, a fact which makes the film a more viable American art-house release than the usual Canadian fare. Intercutting between two disparate but eerily parallel storylines, one set in late 60s Paris, the other in contemporary Montreal, Vallée takes his time in revealing what links the plots. And unlike the typical movie of this kind, he manages to keep the viewer in suspense for exactly the amount of time he meant to.
The modern-day storyline revolves around a love triangle, with ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent) on one side, new fiancée Rose (Evelyne Brochu) on the other and 40-year-old club DJ Antoine (Kevin Parent) in the middle. The 60s story follows model-singer-actress (and ex-not-quite-Mrs. Johnny Depp) Vanessa Paradis as Jacqueline, a single mother proudly raising her Down's Syndrome son Laurent (Marin Gerrier) in Paris at a time when the genetic disorder was far more stigmatized than it is today. At first the frequent shuttling between the two periods is disorienting, particularly when Vallée also starts throwing in flashbacks to Carole and Antoine's teenage years and what at the time seemed like the start of a romance between cute, Goth soul-mates. But whatever Vallée's flaws are in staging the scenes, either photographically or chronologically, he more than makes up for in directing the entire cast to strong performances.
Paradis in particular is quite strong as a downtrodden but spirited woman who refuses to allow herself or her son to indulge in self-loathing or pity over the travails they encounter related to his condition. In Canada, she received the Best Actress Genie—their version of the Oscar—for the role (the movie itself was nominated for 13). But Florent will break your heart as Carole, who loves her ex-husband so much she can't bring herself to hate Rose because of how happy she has made Antoine. Even when the more fantastic elements of Café de Flore start rearing their collective head, one can't help but admire the film because of its earnest sentimentality. Seldom do recent films acknowledge the effect of love-at-first-sight so honestly, then question, as Antoine does at his therapist's, how one can feel like they've just met their destiny after having once felt the same about somebody else. Similarly, Vallée touches upon the role music plays in love, not just for this DJ, but universally. The movie's title refers not to the famous Parisian café, but to a rather banal synth-pop song Antoine gets invigorated by because of the joyous nerve it seems to touch in him, one he associates with new love.
Café de Flore is a film that ebbs and flows, honestly evoking the highs and lows of true love, the love of the ages. And how often does one get a chance to bask in the light of such ardor in the movie theater these days?
Café de Flore is in limited release and opens today at the Regal Tara Cinemas in Atlanta.