Friday, November 8, 2013

The Café de flore interview

I need to thank my friend Andrew Parker for sending me this old Jean-Marc Vallée interview. - D.D.  

Andrew Parker: Let’s go back very briefly to the film you made before this one, The Young Victoria, which was entirely a period piece. This film is half a period piece and half about a man who does a lot of travelling. Was it more of a challenge to tackle both types of films in the same movie, or was it more difficult to make one larger period piece?

Jean Marc Valee: I wouldn’t say this was harder to do. Victoria was harder to do than Café because of its complexity, and the world, and the homework that I had to do in order to be familiar with this world of a royal family. It’s so anal. We had to be so meticulous about the way they stand, they way they talk, the way they eat, their rooms, everything. It’s much more of a challenge and more difficult than Café where part of the film is taking place in Paris in the 1960s.

The only hard thing to do there was… It’s not a filmmaking friendly city, Paris, when you want to make a period film because it changed so much. It should be friendly and it should be easy, but they have a hard time, the Parisians, whenever they want to make a period film because they put posts everywhere on the streets in order to not be able to park on the sidewalks. They put fences in front of the schools because they had terrorist attacks at one point.

But it would be perfect to do a period piece in Paris because you look around and you look up at the buildings and the churches and it’s period everywhere. But the cars and this and that and how it changed makes it so when you ask to get rid of these fences and posts the city asks for… it costs an arm and a leg. It’s kind of ridiculous, so it’s tough to find the right streets to shoot in.

AP: One of the things that’s very important in the film is the theme of parenting and what it takes to be a parent. It’s hard for an actor to act like someone is their child when they aren’t, especially for Vanessa Pardis who has to play the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, so was there any special direction you gave to the actors as to how you wanted the relationships to feel or was there anything the actors themselves did to prepare for the roles?

JMV: Of course. Vanessa had to read a lot and do a lot of research to become acquainted with the Down Syndrome aspect of the film. She did her homework and she became very close to the kid’s family and his parents, and she asked a lot of questions and spent a lot of time with all of them before hand so she could get familiar with how to act and react.

AP: You mentioned before that the casting for the part of Laurnet, the young boy with Down Syndrome, was the hardest aspect of the production. What was that process like?

JMV: Yeah, that was something. In the casting we had to find the perfect kids and it took, I don’t know, about four or five months. We searched in France and Belgium and Quebec because they had to speak French. When I started to do the auditions with these kids, I started to realize “Oh God, what did I write there?”

A lot of them had such a hard time talking and such a hard time trying to understand and get what they had to do in an auditioning room. It could be something simple, like I was asking them to pretend to laugh or smile like I was doing. I was asking them to imitate me, and it was hard for them to do. Then I was asking them to smile and they were trying to do it. Then I would say I was going to pretend to be sad, and I asked them to do the same, but instead of pretending to do the same, they were coming to me and hugging me. So at that moment in the auditioning room I felt a little over my head and wondering “What am I trying to do here? Am I going to find these two?”

At one point I thought we were going to meet regular kids and put some make-up on them it was so hard. Then I met Elise, the little girl, and she could talk and comprehend. And she told me she had a lover at school, that she was in love with a down syndrome kid at school. I said “Really? I need to meet this kid!” (laughs) Then she came back with him (Marin Gerrier). They weren’t even really actors. They were kissing on the mouth between takes and I had to keep telling them to stop that! But they were so into expressing love and down syndrome is pure love. It was so beautiful. They had a real understanding of the pretending necessary to take on the roles of being Vanessa Paradis’ son and the other parents daughter, but as soon as I said action, they weren’t playing the truth, they were the truth. They were it.

AP: Your movie follows in a recent line of movies that tackle really abstract concepts, and there are few things more abstract than love. There are no clear cut answers, but it resonates with audiences. Did you have any reservations about tackling something like this and how the film would be received?

JMV: No, I didn’t think it was going to be hard because it’s very universal, the concept of soul mates. Of course, we’re dealing with past life with a twisted plot, but bottom line is that it’s life and love and a true love that we want and we dream of. The one that when we lose it, we want to find it back. That’s really why Helene’s character is trying so hard to figure out just what the fuck’s going on and why she has no control over anything she feels. Then she goes past the direct explanations and tries to go to the paranormal side and maybe find it back or try to move on and believe that it’s over and hope that it could happen again. That’s what the film’s about. It’s about letting go and leaving love, the beautiful and true love, and it could happen more than once.

AP: The music of the film is so integral to the lives of the characters in the film and it serves as their lifeblood. How much music when you originally sat down to write the film did you go through and how long was the list of choices you were working from before you were ready to film?

JMV: Oh man… the list is long. I had it in my iPod and as I was working and working I put more songs in my Café de flore writing playlist. There’s about close to 300 songs and works on there.

AP: How did you settle on Café de flore as the piece the film revolves around?

JMV: I didn’t choose. The song chose me. That’s the weird paranormal thing in my life. (laughs)

AP: When was the moment when you knew this was the song that was going to formulate the story for the film?

JMV: It happened between 2004 and 2007. So for three years I was listening to this track just like the characters of the DJ and the down syndrome kid, they both have this obsession with the track and so did I. I discovered the electronic version first and then the other versions after, and for three years I listened to them repeatedly and I kept telling myself that I was going to make a film one day with this theme. It’s too beautiful.

When I was thinking of a love story, I realized I began humming it and I had some emotional moments. It reminded me of Ennio Morriconne’s music. Particularly when you ask a group of children to perform it. It’s just like… wow. Just thinking of it now and the children just humming it is just epic. It’s so cinematographic and so film like, I just thought it was great for the story. That’s when I thought of it as having two stories.

The Montreal story came up first, and the first thing I saw when I got to Paris was this mother dancing in the morning with her kid, who had down syndrome, outside before going to work and I knew that the Montreal character would be thinking of herself as this mother. So when I was listening to this track and thinking of that premise and concept it was clear to me that this could be very emotional and very beautiful. That’s why I’m saying the track found me. It’s why the film exists. I’m talking to you right now because of this musical theme that created the theme of the film.

AP: In addition to the song that the film is directly framed around, you also have a lot of big name songs used within the film – everything from Sigur Ros to The Cure to Pink Floyd – and none of that had to be cheap or easy to get the rights and permissions to use. How hard was it to get what you wanted and was there anything that you couldn’t get permission to use that you really wanted to?

JMV: Yes. Fuck. (long pause) There was something that could have been used in this film that I wanted to be used in this film because it didn’t work out, and I’m still mad at them! (laughs)

It always takes time to negotiate rights, but it’s easier now that C.R.A.Z.Y. is out there and the labels and record and publishing companies knew about that going in and they knew about Café de flore and I guess the next one will be easy because they know I’m at the service of music and he serves the musicians well because he likes music and his films are music oriented and blah blah blah. I think I have the reputation now that can get the rights.

But I wanted a Led Zeppelin song in the film and it didn’t work out. That’s why Vanessa Paradis is living in a city with all these staircases everywhere. In the subway, on the streets, in her apartment building. She’s always taking and walking up stairs. That’s her burden she has to go down in the most beautiful neighbourhood in Paris going up and down all these stairs in St. Germaine where she has her son’s school. Every day, every night she has to go back to her poorer neighbourhood and it’s her own way of buying her own Stairway to Heaven. I wanted that track.

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