Café de Flore: two destinies so close and yet so far
by Vittoria Scarpa
The third day of Venice Days at the 68th Venice International Film Festival was marked by a moving performance by Vanessa Paradis, who plays the courageous mother of a child with Down’s syndrome in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore [+see also:
interview: Jean-Marc Vallée
film profile]. Presented in a packed movie theatre, the new feature by the Canadian director of C.R.A.Z.Y. (acclaimed at Venice in 2005) triggered immediate applause from the audience at the official screening. It is an atypical, sharp and touching film, beyond time and logic. Besides Johnny Depp’s wife, the cast also includes Canadian singer Kevin Parent (making his big-screen debut), and beautiful and ethereal Hélène Florent and Evelyne Brochu.
An extraordinary and lingering soundtrack (Sigur Ros, Cure, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd) is the distinctive sign of this French/Canadian co-production, set between Paris and Montreal, in which two destinies and two different eras echo each other in a mysterious, and for most of the film indecipherable way, with the only clue being a record that the protagonists – overprotective mother Jacqueline (Paradis) in 1960s Paris and recently divorced, successful DJ Antoine (Parent) in present-day Montreal – often have in their hands, and which plays repeatedly, yesterday as today. "The idea for the film actually arose from a song, Café de Flore by Matthew Herbert", said the director. "I imagined a man who loves this piece of music and listens to it continuously, and from there a crazy story of love and reconciliation".
The editing, carried out by the director over 22 weeks, doesn’t follow a precise logic, it jumps from one era to the other without any apparent link, carried along by the emotions. It is a non-linear, deconstructed film, which risked making it difficult to transport and involve viewers. But instead it draws viewers in with its stream of contrasting suggestions, in which love (both romantic and maternal) shows its wonderful as well as its cruel side, the happiness of one person causes another’s pain, the sadness of a separation is the reverse side of the joy of a new passion.
The choice of actresses was tricky: "It was the hardest part", recalls Vallée, "because they had to be very beautiful women, but ones who also knew how to endear themselves to people, and talented". And on Vanessa Paradis, whom we’re used to seeing in more glamorous clothing, here sporting a modest look, with chaste clothes and no make-up, he said: "She’s a person with a big heart and she’s a loving mother. She’s not here with us today, for example, because it was her children’s first day at school, and she didn’t want to miss it. I wanted to show a different side to her, and in the film she does very well in the role of a mother who dedicates her whole life to improving her son’s existence".
(Translated from Italian)
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