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Café de Flore

Café de Flore (2011) - Vallée

Making the perfect mix tape

The set-up? Café de Flore is not the eponymous restaurant in Paris, but a song ... well okay, two songs.

The film does a wonderful bit of sleight of hand almost immediately, setting up Antoine (Kevin Parent) as the globe trotting DJ who can't help but radiate joy and inspire happiness in others; but the protagonist of the film is actually his ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent)

There's two stories. One that takes place in Montreal, 2011. The other takes place in Paris, circa 1969. Both feature couples that will break apart. So right off the bat, I'll deal with that nagging question: is "Café de Flore" about soul mates and loving someone till the end of time and endless reincarnation? Check, check and ixnay. It's more probable that Carole has constructed this elaborate fiction of the Paris story in her own mind because she can't deal with her emotional problem. Of the five stages of grief (the last one being acceptance) Carole has managed to sail through three of them, but anger has stopped her dead in her tracks. Unable to go forwards or backwards emotionally, she's upping the dosage and frequency of her self medication and her life is slowly spinning out of control. After yet another fitful sleepless night, she wakes up and goes to the book pile beside her bed and digs out the one at the very bottom, the one about past lives. It's only after reading this book does the Paris story begin.

But she couldn't have constructed a better foil for herself. With almost saintly devotion Jacqueline (a deglamed Vanessa Paradis) has dedicated her life to caring for her child 24/7. Her husband took one look at their mongoloid son and abandoned them both. Unfortunately, the endless strain of being the sole caregiver for special needs child is slowly sapping away her spirit. After seven long years, it's beginning to wear her down. Unlike Carole, Jacqueline is all about the simmering rage and how it bubbles up and manifests itself. A look becomes a stare. A whisper becomes a scream. Feigned violence gives way to the real blows. These small and no so small outbursts form a large dramatic arc that Carole has no trouble tracing. Most of the Paris scenes seem to end with her waking up.

This is a perfect example of fictional space and just how completely the film belongs to Carole. This is a replay of when Antoine and Rose first spotted each other from across a crowded room—however they didn't actually speak that night, they just circled one another on opposite sides of the room stealing glances. When Rose noticed he had a wife and kids she grabbed her coat and left abruptly. So Carole is actually imagining the big bang moment when Antoine fell in love with Rose. Wow, talk about hurting. But notice how he turns away—the girl can't catch a break, even in her dreams, Antoine still rejects her.

Rose (Evelyne Brochu) has great expressive eyes; and there's two scenes that really show them off. In one, she's walking down the street and she crosses paths with Carole, there's a genuine apprehension as to whether (as the home wrecking tramp) will Carole will slap her in the face or even deign to acknowledge her. In the second scene: the very first invite into a family gathering as the new girlfriend. She takes the opportunity while dancing to tell Antoine just how happy he's made her—and smooth operator that he be—without skipping a beat, he also shares his own feelings of quasi-contentment.

Both Jacqueline and Antoine's oldest daughter are what one would consider as being eagle eyed. Jacqueline is attuned to the slightest change in Laurent, any hurt or ruffle to his self-esteem registers immediately. This attentiveness is echoed by Antoine's daughter. She watches him falling in love with another woman but is powerless to do anything about it. She's the one who voices the idle comment about him splashing himself in cologne ... for an AA meeting?

As a DJ, Antoine believes completely in the power of music. So his past life with Carole has an actual playlist of love songs for each and every occasion; after their break-up, she takes a not so secret delight in tormenting him with these.
  • Likes? The (sleeping angels) sequence of first glances and falling head over heels in love; this should make even the most cynical movie watcher swoon with delight.
  • The motif of how ethereal happiness is; the way it infuses a face; the way a face darkens once it's gone. The director even spoofs this, by having Antoine bump into Carole's best friend Amélie, outside her house They're both sunny and affectionate ... until they turn their backs on one another.
  • Antoine's tattoo on his upper back. The cardinal points? Suggesting he always knows where true north is, and that his aim is always just and fair. This is the arrogance of a bozo who believes the universe is infatuated with his every move.
  • The evocative little chant that Jacqueline and Laurent sing while he plays on the swing. This suggests his fragility and how entirely his life depends on her love. But she is the one shoving him to heaven.
The downside to the film is the theme of suppressed or repressed anger; it's kind of a tough cookie to crack. You have to work on the imagery in the film to make any sense of it. The recurring motif of the silent and not so silent scream is easy enough, it links up easily with Carole's inability to express any dark emotions. The high angle shots looking down the stairwell in Jacqueline's building don't make sense until Jacqueline dreams that Véro (Laurent's girlfriend) is on the landing outside their apartment, the way the camera rushes towards her is obvious. But I gave up making sense of the recurring image of the airplane jetting across the clear blue sky.

There's a few quick shots late in the film of Rose moving through a crowded dance floor towards the DJ station. Because Carole is such a church mouse incapable of expressing any hostility towards Antoine, You have to decode this as Carole―once again―imagining herself as Rose in order to grab the final cathartic release to her problem. She couldn't in a million years pull the trigger, let alone point the gun at him, but Rose would have no qualms shooting him right between the eyes in public if he cheated on her.

One of the last shots of the film is the slow zoom into the photograph they took here. This seems to suggest Antoine's parents were on the bateau mouche that snapped a photograph of Jacqueline and the two kids. But then again, Carole has known Antoine for more than two decades; she's heard his father's stump speech many times about the great stories contained in each and every photograph on that wall, so it's not beyond possibility that she's stood before that picture at one time or another and imagined the tale of the woman who waved goodbye.

"Café de flore" is the forgotten flipside to the classic, twice in a lifetime story; where one partner has fallen out of, then fallen into another spectacular romance, leaving the abandoned one; hurt and betrayed, but still desperately in love. Ultimately, I think your enjoyment of the film will depend on your ability to identify the endless parade of album covers, hair styles and sound cues; and marvel at the ease in which music evokes distant memories and better days.

Café de Flore -