The first half of the movie had me wondering about the connection between modern day Montreal, where Antoine (Kevin Parent, real life rockstar from Quebec) lives with his girlfriend and two daughters, and 70's Paris where Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) struggles to get by with her son Laurent (Marin Gerrier) who has down syndrome. Paradis is almost unrecognizable as the poor single mother in dowdy clothes with bad hair. She works as a shampoo girl at a salon, in between caring for her son. She has a fierce belief that she can give him a normal life and makes sure he goes to a regular school, despite his down syndrome. The research she has done shows that life expectancy is only around 25yrs old for people with his condition, and there is an intensity she brings to the role, as if each moment could be their last. Their life is fairly happy though, until a new girl at school upsets the balance. Vero (Alice Dubois) joins Laurent's class. She also has down syndrome and straight away they connect on a deep level and become instant best friends, with Laurent even declaring his love for her to his mother.
Antoine meanwhile married his highschool sweetheart, Carole (Helene Florent), and they have two daughters and a seemingly perfect life. Until Rose (Evelyne Brochu) dances in, all blonde curls and charm. There is an instant attraction that pulls them together, leaving Carole alone and crumbling on the side as she deals with sleep walking and nightmares. She takes the view that Antoine is her soul mate and will eventually return to her. Much of the snippets from their teenage years, shows the intensity of their connection, with Antoine saying ' She is the only woman who really understands music like me', and for him as a DJ music, is his life.Vallee was questioned about the casting of the two youngsters with down syndrome, and he spoke of his difficulty in finding people who were right for the role, and he even at one point thought he would not be able to use actors with down syndrome. He found Alice Dubois, who spoke of her real life best friend Marin Gerrier, who ended up in the role of Laurent. He is absolutely brilliant, and along with Helene Florent, were my favorites in the film.
At the heart of Cafe de Flore is the theme of soul mates, and true love. Can a person have more than one soul mate? Is it possible to lose your true love and will you ever find another? I left the film feeling rather depressed by it all, but at the same time it's a beautiful film that you want to watch. The colors and light give an ethereal quality to the Montreal shots, whilst things in Paris are darker, coming out like rich oil paintings from the 70's. There is a lot of moving between past and present, and the parallel lives being played out that can lead to confusion, especially with the younger versions of the present day actors.Director Jean-Marc Vallee gained fame in 2005, with the hit 'Crazy' (most successful film from Quebec ever!), after that he went on to direct the critically acclaimed 2009 film 'Young Victoria'. 'Cafe de Flore' takes him back to Quebec and back to the music he loves. Interestingly though, he was not able to get the rights to use 'Stairway to Heaven', a song he really want to have in the film. The soundtrack is superb, and will bring back memories from the 90's - a time I remember as my favorite years for gigs and clubbing. A smash-hit in Canada, let's see how it does in the UK given that the film is in French and will probably only be shown in smaller independent cinemas. The release date is set for 11th May.