French-Canadian drama examining two disparate stories of love, transitioning from 1960s Paris to modern-day Montreal. From the director of The Young Victoria. Now playing nationwide.
Surrealist romantic dramas tend to drop the gloves when they prepare to emotionally gut-punch their audience. While Café de Flore delivers a worthy seismic blow with one hand, it simultaneously caresses you with the other, making it a profoundly unique experience that will leave you ripped in two.
The dual plotlines initially seem to have little in common: a modern-day family struggles to cope when the father falls for another woman, splitting with his lifelong partner; an isolated single mother in the late ‘60s is thrown off course when her 7-year-old son with Down’s syndrome falls in love with a girl in his class. As the parallel plotlines progress, frequent themes start to mirror each other, eventually alluding to a possible tie that may connect the two universes.
It doesn’t demand you believe in that connection, only that you believe in its ideas of eternal love and romantic obsession, and the consequences that can emerge from treasuring such ideals. On that front, the film succeeds.
Across the board the performances are fantastic, but it’s Vanessa Paradis that rises above the rest. As the overly-devoted single mother to a handicapped son, she exudes both a loving devotion and a troubling loneliness, perfectly portraying the film’s heavy messages.
As beautifully constructed as the film is, it doesn’t engross us in the characters’ inner turmoil as often as it thinks it does. In particular, the motive behind one character’s actions near the end lacks a great deal of emotive backing to make it totally believable, which serves as the films biggest downfall.
Despite this hefty setback, Café de Flore is a well-acted, visually arresting and artfully structured romantic endeavour.