"Despite the somewhat distressing themes explored by Vallée, Café de Flore is extremely cool and voguish, complimented with a brilliant soundtrack..."
Despite having successfully ventured into the English language with the Oscar-winning The Young Victoria, director Jean-Marc Vallée has returned back to native country of France for his latest feature Café de Flore, yet takes with him all that he had learnt to create a film that is evidently rich in Hollywood influences, to make for a compelling fantasy drama.
We follow two stories, set forty years apart yet bound by unfailing love. In the present day we delve into the life of Antoine (Kevin Parent), supposedly happier than ever, the successful DJ is engaged to the beautiful Rose (Evelyne Brochu), living with his two daughters. Yet we soon discover that he has recently divorced his partner of twenty years Carole (Héléne Florent), leaving the mother of his children to suffer as she yearns for his return.
Vallée tells this story against that of Jacqueline's (Vanessa Paradis), who is a single mother raising her son Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who suffers from down syndrome. Despite the struggles that come with such a predicament, they share a love so incredibly strong, yet such a close bond is threatened when Laurent meets Véronique (Alice Dubois) at school, a fellow sufferer of the condition who becomes a close friend. Jacqueline must therefore attempt to overcome her jealousy, whilst forty years on Carole must too try and recover from the grief of losing her first and only love.
Despite the somewhat distressing themes explored by Vallée, Café de Flore is extremely cool and voguish, complimented with a brilliant soundtrack. As Antoine is a DJ, and music is such an important element to his life and his past relationship with his wife, songs that had been important to him over the years almost narrate the story, with the likes of The Cure and Pink Floyd played throughout. Even the film's title is based on a eponymous song which is Laurent's favourite track within the movie.
The track crosses the two stories over as it's also one that Antoine admires, as just one example of how Vallée manages to intertwine two separate stories to great effect. The two parallel narratives are palpably connected between the similar theme of two close bonds threatened by a third person. One narrative is romantic, one platonic, yet both unconditional. Despite being set four decades apart, Vallée intelligently edits them together through imagery, flashbacks and music, as it doesn't feel at all unnatural when mixing between the two.
However, the one immense problem with this feature is how Vallée attempts to form an actual connection between the two stories. We can spot the relation between the tales, it's exceedingly clear that true love bounds them together and they compliment each other wonderfully. Therefore it seems entirely unnecessary to make the connection explicit, as an actual attempt to join the stories together feels contrived and treats us audience members almost as though we are thick and unable to get the point.
Also, in what is effectively a naturalistic drama - there is simply no need for any fantastical elements, which merely seek in devaluing the harsher, realistic aspects to the story. Yet when the film is representational of real life, the performances shine. From the adults to the kids, everyone puts in impressive performances - most notably Gerrier who is terrific as Laurent, whilst Parent must also be praised in what is his début acting performance, as the Canadian star is more renowned for his successful musical career.
Following The Young Victoria there were many who had hoped that Vallée would remain in Hollywood for future projects, yet his move back into French cinema has proved worthwhile, with a triumphant return to his comfort zone, in this hugely emotional and captivating drama.