Café de Flore

Year: 2011
Production Co: Item 7
Director: Jean-Marc Vallé
Writer: Jean-Marc Vallé
Cast: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Evelyne Brochu, Hélène Florent

Before Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, director Jean-Marc Vallée made a film even more European in Café de Flore – parallel stories about love and the loss of it – but not nearly as accessible as his later Hollywood work.

The first story deals with Antoine (Kevin Parent), a DJ who lives with his gorgeous wife Rose (Evelyn Brochu) in a lavish house in Montreal and shares custody of his two cute daughters with his ex Carole (Héléne Florent).

But Antoine is apparently eaten up with feelings of guilt for having left Carole after they met as teenagers and felt like they were made for each other. He's in therapy to deal with the feelings of betrayal slowly eating him up, and Carole seems not to have been able to let him go, seeing a spiritualist to figure out how to get him back and ignoring her friends telling her to move on.

The other story is about a single mother Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) in Paris in the late 60s. Her husband has left after the birth of their Downs Syndrome son but she's determined to give him the best possible chance for a normal life even as doctors tell her he's unlikely to live past his mid 20s.

Jacqueline forms such a protective and loving shell around her little boy that when he starts to take a shine to a girl in his class at school she (Jacqueline) feels more than a little threatened, turning as obsessed and unhinged as Carole does in the present day story.

I can't remember now how the stories are linked – if they are it's by only the slimmest of threads. I've read a few theories about the characters being stand-ins for each other and even direct reincarnations, but if you want obvious connections between the two tales the film's going to let you down.

Other than that it's dreamy and lyrical, with several unusual motifs tying it all together – as well as the common theme of music there's a repeated shot of a plane flying far overhead, trailing a condensation cloud as it goes.

It seems to be overtly about the pain and sacrifice love can make us cause (and demand of us), and how much the heart can hurt us despite our best intentions about the people around us. But even though it's kind of a mystery why Vallée chose these particular people to say so, it has some very strong emotional beats even if the narrative doesn't seem to amount to much.

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