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Café de Flore, City Screen, York
12:55pm Friday 11th May 2012 in Film news and reviews
INTRODUCING… French actress, singer and model Vanessa Paradis’ new film, Café de Flore.
WE STILL remember Vanessa Paradis for Joe Le Taxi on Top Of The Pops when she was 14. We have seen her in perfume adverts, in French films since 1989’s Noce Blanche, and on the arm of husband Johnny Depp.
Now, 25 years on from that infamous single, her lead role in Café de Flore could be her biggest international hit since then, already garnering Paradis the Best Actress prize in the 2012 Genies, Canada’s equivalent to the Oscars.
Opening at City Screen, York, today, Jean-Marc Vallée’s mystical drama tells two parallel stories.
One is set in 1969 Paris, where single mother Jacqueline (Paradis) is raising a young son with Down’s Syndrome, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), who she enrols at a normal school, teaching him to defend himself from bullies.
However, when he develops a close attachment to Veronique, another Down’s Syndrome child, her maternal devotion comes under threat, leading to unforeseen consequences.
The other story depicts the break-up of a marriage in modern-day Montreal, where Carole (Hélène Florent) remains convinced that her bond with husband Antoine (Kevin Parent) was meant to last forever.
We pop the questions to Vanessa…
You are known to be picky with your roles. Why did you choose Café De Flore?
“It was so brilliantly written. It was a shock to read but such a beautiful script. I also loved the movies that Jean-Marc [Vallee] had done before and the fact that he offered me a character unlike any I’ve been offered before was irresistible.”
Jacqueline is a tough and devoted mother. What did you make of her?
“She has set a goal in her life because she has nothing. There’s no husband, no family, no friends and no money – nothing but the love she has to give this little boy. It’s all about him for her and she lives with the threat of losing him so her goal is to make him strive and survive and be strong. She doesn’t do everything well – it’s actually the contrary – but she does everything from her heart.”
Did you ask Jean-Marc why he wanted you for this role?
“He didn’t want me for the role! He met with other actresses in France, but after I read the script, I called him and I think he could see that I was so into it. It was that conversation that made him choose me, I think.”
What did your collaboration with Jean-Marc bring out in the character?
“She’s so different from me so I had to erase a bunch of things. I couldn’t be seductive, sensitive, vulnerable. When Jean-Marc and I were looking for the voice of this woman, it became really clear at one point that she had to be very masculine. Because she is both the mom and the dad, we had to find the masculinity in her.”
Without giving too much away, did you ever meet or talk to the actors who star in Cafe De Flore’s parallel storyline?
“No, we only met when the movie was done. They started to shoot the Canadian part first, and then Jean-Marc came to Paris for a month of preparation. He brought a 20-minute edit of what they had just shot in Montreal so we got to see the other characters and also the tone and rhythm and level of emotion they were playing. We still had to find our bearings together but there was already a movie that we could relate to, even if our story in Paris has nothing to do with theirs… apparently.”
Had you had experience of working with or knowing anyone with Down’s Syndrome before making Café De Flore?
No, it was the first time. And it was an amazing experience because Marin [Gerrier] comes from such an amazing family. He has an older brother and a younger brother and the parents, Natalie and Christophe, are just unbelievable people – great parents and great human beings. This little boy was born with Down’s Syndrome. He was also born with an amazing personality, amazing intelligence and a sense of humour.”
Were his parents there all the time?
“No. It’s a tough thing for parents to leave their son in the hands of other people. It’s a big responsibility for us and they trusted us very much. They got to know us and then trusted us enough to leave their boy with us. They gave us shortcuts to what he likes, what he doesn’t like, what works, what doesn’t work.”
How did Marin behave with you, the woman playing his mother?
“He was great. That was my biggest fear because, with Down’s Syndrome, most of the time there is a problem with assimilation, of processing new information. It’s quite a weird thing anyway for anybody – kids, grown-ups, Down’s Syndrome or not – to be in the scenes we were playing. It’s not a comedy, it’s tough, but he always knew that we were playing and when it was done, I was just Vanessa.”
So you made him feel relaxed on set?
“You know what? He made me feel relaxed. Everybody fell in love with this little boy. He’s so funny and he’s a little angel. He’s a demon as well! He’s very stubborn so it wasn’t easy all the time.”
Did you introduce your own children to him?
Yes. We had a few parties where we danced and ate fries and drank Coca-Cola. It was great.”