“Homme de cinéma, il sait bien qu’une simple image peut parfois valoir mille mots.” – Bruno Dequen on Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day
Since the release of Demolition Jean-Marc Vallée has been busy with two new HBO mini-series: an adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies and then Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. If the reviews of Demolition have been somewhat mixed then it’s hopefully with the release of these upcoming projects that he’ll start to be more publicly appreciated. Because what these critics have missed is that Vallée is a fluid filmmaker whose practice is that of an oeuvre-in-progress. Each new film refracts the previous one and this mise-en-abyme multiplies with each new work. For example: The masculine-centric Demolition (which annoyed many dumbfounded critics) shifts registers with Big Little Lies as it's about a group of mothers and their children. In Vallée’s universe experiences and actions takes place in alternative universes (Café de Flore). So: The erotic one night stand in Wild becomes the worst night of Jane’s life in Big Little Lies. Mitchell’s corporate life in Demolition spins towards entitlement with Renata in Big Little Lies. Vallée’s the type of filmmaker who can be just as much influenced from a mainstream American film (see the investment banking influence of J. C. Chandor’s Margin Call on Demolition) or an Asian art cinema. The obvious influence on Big Little Lies is Ishii Katsuhito’s The Taste of Tea (which Vallée performed a commentary of at the latest Festival du nouveau cinéma) but one could easily also point to Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (which is named after a popular vintage song just like C.R.A.Z.Y.) for its emphasis on a mise en scène which through gestures and visuals captures the complex interplay between school, home and community life. But perhaps to more fully appreciate Big Little Lies is its detective and mystery aspect that needs to be fully elaborated. Just like how Marcellus spoke to Horatio in Hamlet about something rotten in the state of Denmark or all of the unsolved crimes in Due South and The X-Files, Vallée’s Big Little Lies (and his cinema in general) is attempting to get at a malaise in contemporary culture. Whether that is health care, bereavement, loss of feeling and now entitlement and bullying. If Sharp Objects then at first appears to be a more cynical follow up (let’s hope Vallée is not trying to be the new Fincher) there are still multiple key factors worthy of him to take on the project. Like Spielberg at his prime, Vallée likes to work a lot and fast. And never wanting to be aesthetically trapped, he continues to experiment in different registers. If the community in Big Little Lies offers a utopian ideal – that of young women and children joyfully and with anxiety struggling for an equilibrium – then Sharp Objects is the off-kilter reflection which includes humanity’s worst possible traits. But more importantly to its inception is his desire to collaborate with its planned star Amy Adams. With their pre-production Janis Joplin film (a personal one for Vallée) stalled due to copyrights, Sharp Objects proposes a test-run for the two to see how they work together and explore similar themes: fraught ambition, intense neuroses, troubled backgrounds and a career and life that ends abruptly. Because if Sharp Objects has something Valléeien about it is its bleak conclusion: A senseless Camille Preaker resigned to a somnolent life after facing the intense nastiness of the world. This proposes a raw self-portrait of his doubts as an artist: regardless of whatever he makes it will never change all of the inhumanities of the world. This dark counter-point makes Big Little Lies all the more enriching: shared intimacy, communities coming together, pushing away vices, happiness, smiles, children and the joy for a better future. Get out of the way Turner & Hooch (probably the best thing to watch to get a sense of the Monterey where it’ll be set), Big Little Lies will be here soon.