Over the last month or so I’ve watched a couple of films, films I didn’t know much about when I saw them at the cinema, but films that have continued to journey with me: Chinese Take-Away (2011 / Argentinean)and Café De Flore (2011 / Canadian)
In Café De Flore the film cuts between and ultimately weaves together two seemingly unrelated stories. One, set in present-day Montreal, where Antoine, a successful club DJ is torn between his new girlfriend Rose and his still-complicated relationship with his ex-wife Carole; the other story is set in 1960s Paris where Jacqueline, the fiercely protective single mother of Laurent, a child with Down syndrome. The title refers not to a café (the famous Boulevard St-Germain café), but to a soundtrack, a musical theme woven through the story of Jacqueline & Laurent, which connects the characters of 1960’s Paris to those of present-day Montreal – two cities I’ve had the delight of visiting.
In Chinese Take-Away we are similarly drawn into two seemingly unrelated stories; one which begins in modern China (Jun’s story), while the other begins in Argentina (Roberto’s story). Roberto, a former soldier and hardware store owner holds unswervingly to the importance of structure, routine, orderliness as a means of making do. Ultimately these are the means of hiding himself away from, or protecting himself from life lest he gets hurt, until life intervenes and his world is turned upside down by Jun whose life in China had similarly been turned upside down by what for me has to be one of the most outrageous and tragically funny opening scenes I’ve ever scene.
Roberto’s is the life of a man stunted, one which is buttoned-down and ‘lived’ under the stern hand of “control”, self-control, and the control of a mother long dead (watch for this theme in Café de Flore too as it’s played out by Jacqueline & Laurent).
Both films are character and story driven; both are superbly filmed and scored. Both films are focused on the heart (and our sense of “self”), on loss, on heart-break, and on love (obsessive /controlling & over-protective love, love as a source of deep pain, love as mystery, and love as a source of healing). Café De Flore has added dimensions around the importance of the unconscious, music, of dreams, the torment of hallucinations, the struggle to make sense of events in ones life, the difficulties of making peace with oneself and others when life isn’t fair, and the struggle of trying to hold onto reality in the midst of darkness. Also in this film we see and feel the pain and the difficulty of healing a broken heart.
Both films too are about seeing with new eyes and new understanding, and ultimately they’re about opening oneself to life, hope and new beginnings. As Yorkshire poet David Whyte has so beautifully observed:
“…Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive is too small for you…”
While in another poem he reflects:
“…Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving
you are arriving.”
Both excerpts ring true as one lives into and feels the stories of Café de Flore and Chinese Take-Away. Both are films I’d highly recommend, although both take some work and perseverance on the part of the viewer. In particular around allowing yourself to be drawn into the stories and their characters lives, a reality which is made difficult by both the non-linear timelines and multiple storylines (especially in Café de Flore).