Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cafe de Flore - an appreciation

This is not a tragic film. No-one dies in this film. It is a film about letting go, about transition, about turning the corner when you thought you were going straight ahead.

There are two stories here. They do not segue, one into the other. One story is set in Paris in 1969. The other story is set in Toronto in the present day. There is not a character in the first story who appears in the second story. Don’t try to find one. However, the two stories examine the difficulty encountered by human beings who have to contend with change.

It is a terrific story, and a very fine film. The narrative put me in mind of ‘Babel’ with Cate Blanchette and an American male actor. The director, Jean-Marc Vallee, has created a multi-layered film which utilises music and our cultural expectations to assist his audience to follow the characters on their transition.

The two main characters are Jacqueline, played by Vanessa Paradis, and Carole played by Helene Florent. I am not sure why the film is titled ‘Cafe de Flore’. All I can think of is that the cafe of the same name in 6th arrondissement in Paris was a meeting place for intellectual discussion in the ‘50s and ‘60s. This film makes manifest an intellectual conceit: transition.

Jacqueline gives birth to a son, Lauren (played by Marin Gerrier) who has Down Syndrome, and we are told that she finally realises why she is on this earth. As a single mother, Jacqueline, devotes her life to ensuring her son is happy and loved. The relationship between the two actors is just superb. Riding on the metro, we are told that children with this genetic problem have a life expectancy of about 25 years. When Laurent is seven he goes to school, meets, and falls in love with Vero who also has Down Syndrome. Jacqueline’s life hits a brick wall. She had not considered that by loving and ensuring that Laurent had the skills to live his own life, she would no longer be central to his life. Letting go is the issue here. The penultimate scene for this story line occurs in a car as Jacqueline takes both Laurent and Vero to check out a new school. We have all the visuals and the music cues to indicated that something traumatic is going to happen. Then the screen is frozen on a single headlight. The final scene in this story shows Jacqueline pacing a deck at the back of a house, dressed quite differently from previously.

Carole has only had one lover in her life, Antoine, played by Kevin Parent. We are told that very early on, when Carole was a middling teenager, she knew that Antoine was the love of her life. They have two girls, and when Carole and Antoine are in their 30s, Antoine meets and falls in love with Rose, played by Evelyne Brochu. Carole is convinced that Antoine will return to her, and her daughters are caught in the middle. Carole and Antoine are still in love, but it is a love of respect not a love of passion. There is nothing that says love must be serial. With Carole there are a number of scenes where she is driving a car, the music is there, the tension is there, but she is not ready. Eventually, Vallee uses the same technique to indicate that Carole has bridged the divide. The next scene is a poolside party where it is obvious that Carole has let go of her teenage conceits, and is ready to live her life on a deeper, more meaningful plane.

This is a splendid film.

1 comment:

Kay L. Davies said...

Interesting. Paris and Toronto. I must tell Dick to keep an eye out for this one.