Welcome to the first instalment of Scene Saturday (except this one is a day late, sorry about that. Life got in the way a tad)! Every week I’ll be analysing/discussing a scene from a film – it may be part of a month long series on the same film, or differ every week. In any case, it’s always a scene that moved me or I loved for some reason.
The most apt descriptor for Jean-Marc Vallee’s dreamy modernist drama Cafe de Flore is that it’s like watching an album. Comprised of a number of visual and aural movements, sweeping moods and streams of thought that the film glides through that depict singular moments in two lives, not comprised of easily separable or piecemeal scenes, but instead moods, woven through one another to only work as a holistic, lengthy whole.
When we’re first introduced to the two separate time periods of 2011 Montreal and 1960s Paris, we’re unsure how they’re connected. Sure, they both depict love, the former being romantic love between a couple and the latter between a mother and son (the official plot summary is simply “a mystical and fantastical odyssey on love”), but we’re still unsure as to why these seemingly very different people are being thrown together, only connected through different mixes of a song thus far. The feeling that there is something deeper here is definitely present though.
Starting in the past, we get a sense of the once present passion, the fleeting moments of the once powerful connection that are still there. They never leave, they just fade. Regret will always be felt, as Antoine describes, a feeling that even though he’s very happy, he still feels like he’s messed up many lives. Then the cracks appear, the feeling that life is passing by, unsatisfied, the jealousy that will colour two of the characters and tie them together blossoms. And then, at the perfect time, fate plays a hand. A chance meeting between similar spirits, their ‘soulmate’ up until that point playing a part in them coming together. The music and the film slows down, as one often feels when an important event is happening, breathing in the moment, but not reaching full impact. And then, Vallee does exactly what Antoine describes in one of the first movements:
“I like to cut the sound. It gives more punch to what’s coming.”
Aha! And there we have it, my friends, the key to one of the reasons why what comes next hits the mark perfectly. We’re momentarily transported back to reality, out of the constant smooth flow of the lyrics and melody, into a spoken-word bridge, if you will. It shocks, a stark contrast to the overpowering music that was playing seconds earlier, commanding attention out of the dream, the song, and to what’s happening. We’re about to see a large shift here. As quick as the cutaway happens, we’re back. The song has reached a bolder rhythm, it’s more dramatic. We see two young people meet in the midst of a society that doesn’t always treat them well, finding each other in a beautiful flurry of youthful joy and innocence. The music quiets again, we pause, another bridge, this time taking us to 2011, again preparing us for the impact what’s to come. It builds, we find our other two characters where we saw them only minutes earlier, but it feels different this time, more delicate. And then, a simple gesture, one of the most visible signs of a connection changes everything – holding hands. In the context, it’s a sign of support, solidarity. But for Antoine and Rose, it’s the forging of a connection. The gesture is not hurried, it’s reluctant (they decide to after everyone else), and delicate, unsure of how the other person will respond, hoping that they receive the message they want to communicate, how much they want the other person. It’s so simple, so common, but so breathtakingly beautiful. I wanted to cry when I was watching the moment, I’ve gone back many times to watch it again because it speaks volumes in such a simple movement, so many things that are left unsaid through words but..you know the saying – actions speak louder than words. Once reluctant to initiate contact, they’re reluctant for it to end, and you are too. You want this moment of peace, of happiness, of finding someone within the storm of life and holding on, to never end, it’s so electrifying and charged with emotion. In that moment, love is lost, and found.
The pieces from the first act fall together in this 8-or-so minute interlude weave the threads from the first act together, intertwining the two different time periods closely and fluidly and revealing everything we’ve been building up to. Until now, we were introduced to the backstories of the characters in a vague sense, leaving the inner details for the audience to fill out themselves, stuck in a single moment, isolated from the rest. In this movement though, the stories collide, flowing from two different tributaries into the same stream, the pieces falling together to create the complex mosaic of discovery, passion, and regret. We’ve seen it’s about love, we see love in various forms, but here, we see what happens when love collides, an immediate, unbreakable connection is forged, and get a sense of the seismic shift to come in current relationships. It’s a turning point for the film, we see the moment where the characters lives changed (for Antoine, we’ve been working backwards almost), where the sense of floating in a lonely, directionless way disappeared, the love that is not their ‘true love’ replaced. This scene, among others, is one that cements my thesis for the film – it’s not about reincarnation, Rose, Antoine and Carole are not Vero, Laurent and Jacqueline reunited, in my mind, the film doesn’t want you to believe that. Instead, it’s about shared experience, the feeling that, no matter how different we appear to be, we’re connected by shared experiences, common themes in every life that may look different on the outside, but really, are the ties that bind all of us together within.