Thursday 23 November 2017

Please, Sir, can I have l'amour?

Paul Whitington

Café de flore

(15A, limited release, 120 minutes)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée Stars: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélene Florent, Évelyne Brochu

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Though it does recycle some of the narrative tricks and effects Jean-Marc Vallée used in his 2005 film C.R.A.Z.Y., Café de Flore is a disarmingly romantic and commendably ambitious drama that attempts to knot together two dark and seemingly unconnected stories.

Fluid and stylised and beautifully put together, it is the kind of film that will either enchant you or annoy the hell out of you, but it's the opposite of bland, which has to be a good thing.

In present-day Quebec, a rather smug and annoying Montreal DJ called Antoine (Kevin Parent) introduces us to his two lovely daughters and Rose (Évelyne Brochu), the love of his life. He plays at clubs and is feted at thumping venues across the world and seems to have the perfect life, but all is not as idyllic as it seems.

Rose is not the mother of his girls, and Antoine left his childhood sweetheart Carole (Hélene Florent) to start a new life with her. Fine for him, not so great for the constant and heartbroken Carole, who cannot move on and forget about him.

Meanwhile, in late 1960s Paris, Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) is a scarily determined single mother who moves heaven and earth to give her Down Syndrome son Laurent (Marin Gerrier) the best possible chance in life.

She lives in a box flat in a grimy northeastern Parisian slum, and has no one to help her raise Laurent in a time and place profoundly unsympathetic to her plight.

But her furious love for her child knows no boundaries: she insists on enrolling him in a normal school, and fights tooth and nail to keep him. But when Laurent becomes smitten with a girl called Véro (Alice Dubois), who shares his condition, Jacqueline struggles to accept that he has a mind of his own.

How these two stories are connected is only revealed very late in the film with an ambivalent and problematic explanation that is bound to infuriate the literal-minded. But however unsatisfactory you might find Café de Flore's denouement, its storytelling momentum is hard to resist.

Vallée uses recurring images and music to evoke two analogous forms of total love.

Heartbreak, longing and unrequited love are powerfully conveyed by a film that assaults you with beauty and unhappiness in fairly equal measure, and Paradis and French-Canadian actress Florent are superb.

Vallée's use of music is especially evocative, and he teases us cleverly by starting and stopping Pink Floyd's Breathe just as it's about to explode into its familiar strains.

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