In his latest film, director Jean-Marc Vallée explores the power of love and its ability to overcome time and metaphysical boundaries through the New Age views of reincarnations and multiple lives. Having directed the beautiful historical piece The Young Victoria in 2009, Vallée now presents two stories. One is about a self-conceited DJ from Montreal, Antoine (Kevin Parent), and the other one, about a single mother called Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), living in 60s Paris and raising her son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who has Down syndrome.
In the beginning, the stories unfold slowly and may be difficult to follow for the audience. However, for the patient viewers, there is the pleasure of the cinematography and editing, both vital for the atmosphere. Through the editing of overlapping shots the director supplies a visual link between the two stories, and the respective flashbacks of the characters’ motives. Another significant connection is the song of the film’s title, Café de Flore, which Jacqueline plays for her son, and of which Antoine, as a DJ, has several contemporary versions.
…a demonstration of how intense the bond between a mother and son can be.
Despite the fascinating visual style, the two stories differ in originality. The audience is likely to follow Jacqueline’s story more eagerly, as Antoine’s is somewhat trivial. The DJ is a self-indulgent celebrity, recovering from alcoholism, though it is hinted that he could easily yield to drugs. He has left his wife Carole for his girlfriend, Rosa, whom he believes is his soulmate, causing the misery of his children and the discontent of his parents. As he complains to his psychiatrist about the problems of his perfect life, his story lacks depth, despite the flashbacks and the soundtrack.
On the other hand, the ferocity of the Jacqueline, trying to create a normal life for her son in a society, overwhelmed by prejudice, is striking. Paradis completely vanishes, immersing herself in Jacqueline, the character’s determination sometimes making her look unattractive. Combined with Gerrier’s performance, this is a demonstration of how intense the bond between a mother and son can be. However, this bond fades, when Laurent falls in love with Veronique, a girl who also has Down syndrome, driving his mother to acts of desperation.
…the outer-worldly explanation might not be plausible enough for some viewers…
Apart from the song and the shared theme of love, the stories don’t give out their connection immediately. Vallée starts fully revealing the links between the narrative strands towards the end of the film, through Carole’s visions and the medium she visits. Nevertheless, the outer-worldly explanation might not be plausible enough for some viewers, especially those, who are not fans of the New Age notions of life and love. Still, even if the connection between the images of the film may seem unrealistic, Café de Flore provides two hours of two beautifully told stories about some interesting characters.