Café de Flore Review

Noel Megahey's cinema review of Café de Flore can be read here

Café de Flore, written and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, follows two storylines. In Paris in the late Sixties, Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) gives birth to a son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who has Down's Syndrome. Abandoned by the boy's father and living in poverty, Jacqueline brings up Laurent on her own. At school, Laurent meets Véronique (Alice Dubois), who also has Down's, and they become inseparable. “Meanwhile”, forty years later in Montreal, Antoine (Kevin Parent) is a successful DJ , married to Carole (Hélène Florent) with two teenage daughters. But then he meets Rose (Evelyne Brochu) and he leaves Carole and moves in with her. Antoine thought he had found his soulmate in Carole...but should that end? And is it possible to have a second soulmate?

Antoine's says that music “takes him into a good place” and Vallée's film reflects this in more than one way. First of all, there is plenty of music on the soundtrack, from the electronic music piece that gives the film its title, to much use of Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros and others. Antoine says that when he is DJ-ing he likes to cut the sound to enhance its impact when it returns, and Vallée does exactly that with his soundtrack more than once. And the film itself has a contrapuntal structure akin to a piece of music, such as a fugue. It's a tribute to the writer-director that all this remains lucid, as not only are there two storylines, set on two continents four decades apart, but each one contains flashbacks as well. The film does still require attentiveness from the viewer, as we are asked to infer the times and locations as each is lit and shot (beyond a tendency towards browns in Jacqueline's story) to be of equivalent dramatic weight to the other – no now and then, but two “nows” - and there are no time/place captions.

What this adds up to is left mainly to the viewer. Carole has dreams which seem to feature Jacqueline and Laurent, so is this a case of reincarnation or some other kind of mystical/psychic connection across space and time? Or is the Jacqueline story a figment of her imagination. Keep an eye on a photograph at the very end of the film. It may have been clearer on a cinema screen, but you can easily miss it on a DVD, so here it is:

The following text contains spoilers. Click and drag over this box to view.
A photograph of a younger Antoine and Carole taken in Paris shows Véronique and Laurent in the background.
Café de Flore belongs to a type of film that isn't fantasy as nothing happens that couldn't happen in real life, but moves beyond realism to evoke a sense of connections between people separated from each other in space and time. Whether you consider this profound or romantic guff is up to you. The master of this was the late Krzysztof Kieślowski, particularly in The Double Life of Véronique and the Three Colours trilogy. Café de Flore is a bravura piece of filmmaking, with strong performances all round, but it's not at that level.

Part of this is down to the character of Antoine, who isn't as sympathetic as he seems to be expected to be. Quite the opposite, in fact. All his talk of soulmates comes over as an elaborate justification for being led by his dick. The film has the common fault of telling us about love rather than showing a deep connection – and depicting the lovers having energetic sex is not sufficient. The women in the film all come off badly. Jacqueline's maternal love for Laurent is seen as ultimately destructive (if not outright insane) and the film doesn't avoid the implication that Carole is the one to blame for her husband leaving her. Café de Flore, for all its many good points, leaves a sour aftertaste.


Momentum's DVD is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. It begins with trailers for Quartet, Antoine Corbijn: Inside Out and Hope Springs, which can be fast-forwarded or skipped.

The DVD transfer is in the original ratio of 2.40:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. Café de Flore was shot in Super 35 and the transfer is excellent, sharp and colourful with strong blacks.

The soundtrack, almost all in French, is available in a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a LPCM Surround (2.0) mix. There's quite a lot of activity in an at times pretty loud soundtrack, with much use of music on the surrounds and some direction use of the lefts and rights. What makes the difference is the subwoofer; the 5.1 track features some very heavy bass, particularly in a couple of sequences showing Antoine DJ-ing and in the film's climactic sequence. English subtitles are optionally available.

The only extra is the trailer (1:54), presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic with LPCM 2.0 sound. Although the dialogue is in French, this trailer has an English voiceover which isn't in the film itself.

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