‘‘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.
(M) Palace (120min, $29.95)
(M) Transmission (116min, $34.95)
(M) Roadshow (95min, $39.95)