Monday, March 24, 2014

Everything and More: Jean-Marc Vallée's American films

«Les petits films indépendants ne se retrouvent pas aux Oscars avec six nominations. La vie est étrange et nous réserve de belles surprises comme celle-ci!» - Jean-Marc Vallée

Jean-Marc Vallée is too underrated. Why was there no footage of him from the Oscars? How come 24 Images and Cahiers du Cinéma still haven’t championed him? He’s one of the most original directors of the Twenty First century but he’s still accused of making télé-films! Something is wrong about that! And it does not help that he’s probably too modest to acknowledge the importance of his singularity, so like Spielberg and the directors of the Classical Hollywood studio era, he just describes himself as having a ‘style’ and dutifully acknowledges the work of his collaborators. But deep down he’s a personal artist who radically experiments with form and has something to say, which is rare in an industry that favors homogeneity.

Vallée especially stands out in the context of Canadian cinema. He is similar to other recent Québécois directors like Denis Villeneuve and Philippe Falardeau who, through the help of new funding and production bodies, have gone to the United States to make films with the major studios. This comes with the potential concern that it might water-down his individual style or make them less "Québécois" (whatever that means). But it's the benefits that are more important like bigger stars and higher production values but most importantly a wider audience.

Vallée speaks about his ambitions in a discussion of C.R.A.Z.Y.,
“I didn't censor myself. I didn't hold myself from writing something with fantasy and magic. This is what we do in Quebec, is we know we don't have big budgets and we write ourselves more realistic stories. They're not wild, they're not crazy, they're not magical. So I didn't want to do that and I said, 'Fuck it, I'll write myself a big story and a big film and I'll do it in English.'”
Vallée's use of imagination, creativity and scope with C.R.A.Z.Y. and then his following films broke the mold of what could be considered a Québécois, as well as a Canadian, film. Going to Hollywood, which has been a regular practice during his career, was just the logical conclusion of what Vallée has been doing. The cinema’s wide-screen is the director’s white canvas and Vallée uses it to its fullest effect to speak to the widest audience. And with his two most recent films Café de Flore and Dallas Buyers Club he has reached a peak in his style of aesthetic expressivity.

Another important thing is that it is not an empty style in favor of visual tricks nor a depersonalized approach of well-crafted storytelling nor is he pursuing the traditional qualities of how a film is typically judged like representation, characters, narrative etc. Vallée is pushing cinema into a place that it has never gone before as he accentuates its abstraction and pathos. Just watch the children in Café as they're guided by such strong feelings or Ron Woodroof's fight for survival to see how Vallée creates these unreconcilable spirits.

Vallée is like a termite who, through editing and sound design, can get into the infrastructure of his film’s style and the DNA of its characters. As Robert Koehler writing for arts meme nicely highlights, “Vallée directs with Ron’s brand of chutzpah, immersing himself in American rebelliousness much like his previous three features were branded with Québécois (C.R.A.Z.Y.), British (The Young Victoria) and French (Café de Flore) flavor.” But his work is still personal and its focus on specific human experiences has wide universal appeal.

In the past one of the greatest filmmakers of the Twentieth Century the Québécois director Gilles Carle showed in his films how Québec can sometimes be trapped behind road-blocks. This applies equally to the director, and to a lot of Québécois cinema in general, whose important place in film history has unfortunately been forgotten and whose films are regrettably still not even available on English DVDs. So how does Vallée then respond to this? What then is one of the key motifs in his cinema? Crossing borders.

Whether it is by car or plane in Vallée’s cinema there are no restrictions, geographical or even temporal, as his characters demonstrate a willingness to explore and to push boundaries. Whether it is personal, sexual or political Vallée consistently deconstructs social norms to show that the old ways of doing things is over and that there needs to be the creation of a new world. And if there are biblical references tucked away in his films it is because for Vallée life is worth fighting for and redemption is possible.


Anonymous said...

This is really great. I also loved everything you've pointed about his cinema that makes it so unique. So glad to read about other people appreciating his work. Truth is while I was doing my post on his latest films I researched the web and I found some posts from people that truly love his films. What I mean with this it's that maybe he doesn't has a big following but the people who has seen C.R.A.Z.Y. or Café de Flore does not forget them easily. They stuck with them. So badly talking to some friends some of them have seen C.R.A.Z.Y. but didn't even know about the guy behind it... and a girl I know was even surprised when I told her that the guy directing Dallas was the same from that film.

Such a pity, 'cause he really deserves more recognition. C.R.A.Z.Y. and Café are two masterpieces for me. I loved them a lot. And Dallas was really powerful too. But he totally hooked me with the other two with music and the surrealism of some scenes, I loved that.


David D. said...

Thanks for your comments, Mara. Yeah, Vallée is great. I just want more people to get into him. I can't wait until his next film :)