There is a reason why I generally grow suspicious of movies that purport to have two separate storylines that are linked solely by theme and spirit, and more often than not, by a highly improbable series of events at the movie’s climax. The reason for this is how hard it is to pull it off – to ensure that both storylines are compelling in equal measure, to provide each with sufficient depth and with interesting characters, and to steer away from plot holes, implausibilities and absurdities in connecting the two individual strands.
Café de Flore manages to achieve none of the above. It comprises two plots: one is set in 1969 Paris, following a mother (played by Vanessa Paradis) forced to bring up her son, diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, alone, in a time of comparative ignorance and fear. The second is set in the modern day, and follows a moderately successful DJ whose first marriage has fallen apart after he fell in love with another beautiful young woman. His divorce from the woman he long believed he would spend his life with, and the possibility of a marriage between him and his new lover, complicates his relationships with those close to him. The general idea is that this movie should be a profound and spiritual meditation on love, loss and life.
The former of these two storylines is interesting and moving, providing a mix of emotional depth and social realism. The latter is drivel, the stuff of rubbishy afternoon TV drama or Channel 5 soap opera. Even the 1969 storyline isn’t perfect – it does contain its fair share of clichés and OTT melodramatic moments, but there are flashes of brilliance and intense emotional drive; had the film solely stuck to this plot, while developing and refining it further (as truth be told, it seems like we’re watching a story shot from the first draft of a script), Café de Flore potentially would have been an excellent movie. As it stands, it is marred horribly by the trashy present day storyline and a ridiculous twist ending which completely destroys any kind of realism in which the finest qualities of the movie reside; thus, the ending of powerful poignancy that this movie should have had is replaced by one of sentimental whimsy.
In its favour, the cinematography is very beautiful, with some truly transcendental moments and a handful of inspired, stand-alone scenes; on top of this, the acting (especially from Paradis) is of an exceptional quality. It is therefore a great shame that all of this talent is wasted on a film that is so utterly undeserving of it.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (May ’12)