Café de Flore is a film that explores the existence of soul-mates, the meaning of love, and the power of music. Sounds deep? It is. Check out my thoughts on the film after the jump.
I rarely have strong emotional reactions to film, but there was just something about this one that hit me. Somehow this film managed to worm it’s way into the deepest reaches of my mind and invoke a powerful emotional response. It’s for that reason that I have written something down, despite feeling that I cannot do the film justice.
The film has two seemly unconnected story-lines which it switches back and forth between. The first (set in 1960s Paris) follows Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), the extremely protective single mother of Laurent (Marin Gerrier) who has Downs Syndrome. Jacqueline wants nothing more than for her son to overcome both the medical prognosis and societal stigmas surrounding his condition. Her whole life is dedicated to this and we watch their triumphs and their struggles. We also watch a relationship develop between the very young Laurent and his schoolmate Véro (Alice Dubois), who also has Downs.
The second of the story-lines is set in the present day and his centred around Antoine (Kevin Parent) who is a successful international jet-setting DJ. He has a seemingly perfect life (career, children, beautiful partner, house) – but he is troubled, and has wrestled with alcoholism/drug use in the past. He has recently split from his wife Carole (Hélène Florent) and now lives with his girlfriend Rose (Evelyne Brochu). We watch as the characters attempt to adjust to these monumental changes in their lives, and we see that the relationship between Carole and Antoine is still quite complicated.
This film has two key themes/ideas – the power of music and the existence of soul-mates. It is this first theme of the power of music which really resonated with me. The film is named after a song called ‘Café de Flore’ which the characters all play – in particular it is the record that calms Laurent, and he becomes very upset when he is unable to play it. Antoine is a DJ and music is very central to his life and the lives of his family. There are many scenes in the film that show the characters shuffling songs on their iPods, dancing (both alone and with others), and putting on records. We also see how the characters connect music to certain people, certain times, and certain places in their lives. The young daughters of Antoine know the power of music and they play particular songs on purpose to evoke an emotional response from him. This idea of music being so power and so connected is one that I can totally relate to – as I suspect many people can. The film does an amazing job of showing the power of music in everyday life and how deep into our core it can reach. The music in this film will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
The film also tackles the idea of “soul-mates” – do they exist, and how do we cope if the person we believed to be our “twin flame” turns out to be the soul-mate of someone else? This is a deep topic to delve into, and yet the film does it brilliantly. We watch as Carole fails to cope with losing her soul-mate to another, and we see her wrestle with thoughts of destroying them and/or destroying herself. What makes this all the more heart-breaking is that we are shown the origins of her relationship with Antoine. They were young teenagers who were brought together by their love of music. The film also dips into this in the other story-line, as we see young Laurent fall for his schoolmate Véro. Their love is young and it is pure, but like the love of Carole and Antoine, it is not simple. Anyone who has been through a break-up will relate to something in these relationship stories – it is a universal pain. This is powerful stuff that will leave you thinking.
The cast does an amazing job, and in particular Vanessa Paradis is brilliant as Jacqueline. She radiates motherly love and protectiveness from her core, and yet she is still a very fragile and emotional character. I loved the character of Antoine, and found his quirks of constantly swearing and getting annoyed at technology to be incredibly enduring and relatable.
The editing in this film is very skilful – the film switches between the two story-lines seamlessly and never strays too long on either story. We are fed bits of each story and are forced to put the pieces together ourselves. This isn’t a film that is going to provide you with answers easily, and at times it becomes frustrating trying to figure out what exactly is going on, and how everything is connected. Stick with it thought – it is ultimately worth the effort.
I found this film utterly emotionally devastating. It left me feeling sad, confused, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. However, any film that can get that response from someone is a film that is worth watching. In a sea of soulless blockbusters, this is one film that may actually change the way you think about love and about life.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer(s): Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 25th 2012; New Zealand: June 21st 2012; USA: no date set