Named after a French chanson beloved by both a DJ in modern-day Montreal and a boy with Down syndrome in 1960s Paris, Quebecois writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée’s film double-helixes between past and present, sensual rumination and blunt Freudian catharsis. While working-class mom Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) battles to provide a normal life for her disabled son (Marin Gerrier), globe-trotting Antoine (Kevin Parent) struggles to find peace after leaving his wife and childhood sweetheart, Carole (Hélène Florent), for the beautiful Rose (Evelyne Brochu). Thanks to an accumulation of visual and sonic signifiers—still water, speeding cars, Pink Floyd and Sigur Rós—these two seemingly disconnected worlds start to overlap and collide.
Arriving in theaters just a few days after Cloud Atlas—another work of cinematic spiritual transmigration—Café de Flore initially goes easy on the cross-chronological resonances, alternating between its two time frames without telegraphing what one reality might have to do with the other. The gambit is frustratingly obtuse, as well as unflattering to the programmatic Paradis story line, which pales compared with its dreamier, friskier counterpart. But such meandering is preferable to the climactic communion and grand reveal, when the film’s delicately curated textures are flushed down the toilet of narrative contrivance. Postdivorce reconciliation tales—not to mention mother-whore disquisitions—don’t get more elaborate than this.
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