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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

‘‘THIS is the story of a man with ev­ery rea­son to be happy and the lu­cid­ity to re­alise it. About to turn 40, An­toine Godin has never felt bet­ter about him­self.’’ So be­gins Jean-Marc Vallee’s del­i­cately af­fect­ing Cana­dian film Cafe de Flore, and if you feel awk­ward watch­ing sex scenes with the kids in the room, be warned — the first one comes about 30 sec­onds in. Of course, it’s just as likely they’ll be put off by the glo­ri­ous sounds of Pink Floyd that fol­low im­me­di­ately after­wards, so take your pick.

Things quickly move on: ‘‘And here’s a boy who doesn’t have ev­ery rea­son to be happy, or the lu­cid­ity to re­alise it.’’ This is Lau­rent, a young Down syn­drome boy whose sin­gle mother, Jac­que­line (Vanessa Par­adis), is one of the splen­didly mad threads un­rav­el­ling in the story even as she pulls it all to­gether. Lau­rent and Jac­que­line’s drama is set in 1960s Paris; that of An­toine (Kevin Par­ent) in mod­ern-day Montreal. He’s a celebrity DJ with a suc­cess­ful club­bing ca­reer, two beau­ti­ful daugh­ters and a dropdead gor­geous girl­friend who he wants to marry.

The two sto­ries grow to­wards their in­evitable meet­ing, and if you read some of the re­views when Cafe de Flore had its cin­e­matic re­lease, you might be in­clined to give it a miss. That’d be a mis­take. There’s plenty to be had in this self­con­scious story of love in all its vari­ants. Yes, An­toine is a nar­cis­sist who tends to see re­la­tion­ships in terms of how they make him feel rather than what they give any­one else and, yes, it’s clear early on that Jac­que­line is prob­a­bly go­ing to come to a fairly grisly end. (She’s not the only one who does, but all that fast driv­ing can’t end well as a plot de­vice un­less it re­ally goes some­where, so to speak.)

But be­fore that un­folds, we have Jac­que­line’s char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ing through an ab­so­lute de­vo­tion to her son, from the mo­ment of birth when all those around her would see the boy aban­doned to an in­sti­tu­tion — in­clud­ing his fa­ther who, in an ob­vi­ous set-piece at the open­ing, is told to get out and does. An ob­ses­sive fo­cus on reme­dies, ex­tra cour­ses of study, even phys­i­cal and ver­bal self-de­fence strate­gies to help Lau­rent face up to the bul­lies who taunt him for be­ing dif­fer­ent, can’t quite over­come the hur­dles he — and she — faces.

I sup­pose the switch­ing back and forth be­tween the two sto­ries gets a lit­tle dis­ori­ent­ing, and the sym­bols are some­times too ob­vi­ous, such as the ham­ster wheel in An­toine’s apart­ment squeaking out its cir­cu­lar song in the mid­dle of the night. Yes, we know he has yet to get over his wife (who also ap­pears not to have got over him, set­ting up an ob­vi­ous plot line in­volv­ing her and the new girl­friend). And the con­stant flash­backs-within-flash­backs, while tech­ni­cally su­perb, mean you have to pay close at­ten­tion. But at an­other level it’s a story about how ba­nal the most ap­par­ently con­se­quen­tial things can be — even death, when it comes to that. And Cafe de Flore’s re­veal, when it ar­rives, isn’t nearly as corny as you might think were I sim­ply to de­scribe it here. Worth putting on the Sun­day night view­ing list.

This week

(M) Palace (120min, $29.95)

(M) Trans­mis­sion (116min, $34.95)

(M) Road­show (95min, $39.95)

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