Jean-Marc Vallee’s Café de Flore is a powerfully moving, multisensory mosaic of a film telling two stories, one set in late-1960s Paris and the other in modern-day Montreal, that explore the ways we lose, or find, love. The former narrative follows a single mother and her son, who is afflicted with Down syndrome and is seven years old, which dooms him to being misunderstood when he declares he is in love with a classmate, a feeling that the classmate returns. A pointed contrast develops between the boy’s mother, who feels he is slipping away from her, and the girl’s parents, who encourage the children’s affection and invite the boy to sleep over.
The Montreal storyline introduces us to a successful deejay that has separated from his ex, the mother of his two children, and is living with a new love, a woman younger and seemingly less troubled than his former lover. Vallee fights the urge to moralize, giving the three protagonists of this account the depth and empathy they each deserve, and the maturity to recognize that most relationships fail these days, and yet it is up to the adults to deal with complex emotions with the grace that will reassure their loved ones. The two narratives converge, in a manner of speaking, as the mostly gently-handled echoes of past lives reverberate, and music, especially the ways it helps us define and even control our emotions, proves pivotal. An unconventional work, and not to be missed.