An obscure Jean-Marc Vallée interview from the Liste noire period that was re-posted on the Films du Québec website: this early interview provides a thorough and rich portrait of the filmmaker before he would become more internationally known. Many of the core ideas of his filmmaking are already there but he’s also more vocal and keen, which is a trait that would diminish with the years.Published in the press dossier for the film, Liste noire – Entretien avec Jean-Marc Vallée (1995) is a rare early interview. The interviewer Charles-Henri Ramond contextualizes Liste noire as one of the commercially successful Québécois films of the late 90s, with Caboose by Richard Roy and Erreur sur la personne by Gilles Noël, that helped refresh their genre films as they were inspired by their American counter-part. Ramond writes, “The modern era of crime stories, thrillers, suspense and other type of fantastic film reinvested the Québécois corpus.”In it Vallée still sees the medium for its entertaining qualities but where then he highly values that of audience manipulation in his post-C.R.A.Z.Y. films he was able to refine his aesthetic by focusing first on its emotions.In the interview he cites Hitchcock (obviously he thoroughly read Hitchcock/Truffaut) but also Paul Schrader and Philip Kaufman. He’s already saying (about the film's sex scenes) on understatement in acting, "Less is more," but he adds, "But as Philip Kaufman also says: ‘Sometimes, more is more.'" He mentions an appreciation for 37°2 le matin by Jean-Jacques Beineix, which he contrasts with Liste noire.Of note is how Vallée mentions Hitchcock and Truffaut as the center of his cinephilia… Vallée brings the ideas of the original Cahiers project to Montreal and through it is able to re-invent Québécois cinema and film in general. Around the same time that Vallée was making these comments about Hitchcock and Psycho, in Switzerland Jean-Luc Godard was doing the same thing in his Histoire(s).It’s an honor to translate him. – D.D.
The interview begins with a Hitchcock quotation that Vallée then explains,
“You know that the public is always searching to anticipate where the film is going as they love to say: Ah! I already knew what was going to happen. So because of this, one must take this into account, but also completely guide the thoughts of the spectator.” – Alfred Hitchcock
“To begin this interview with this citation from the master of suspence, it’s to say the importance that I grant him and his influence that he has on how I approach cinema, that is to say, like a game. A game with the public. A game that utilizes the cinematographic art to deceive, play, scare, make laugh, to create emotions on a mass scale. With this in mind, Psycho is the perfect example of what cinema can do, and for Hitchcock, it’s his experience that is the most passionate game with the public. “With Psycho, I was doing the directing of the spectator,” he affirmed in his famous interview with François Truffaut. To direct the spectator. It’s based on this idea, and through constantly reminding myself of it, that I took on the task of realizing Liste noire.”
On what brought him to the project,
“The task of directing of Liste noire interested me for several reasons. First off, I was really interested by the challenge of making a thriller that I found to be well written. Suspense, as a genre, permits a grand exploration of the cinematographic language. Secondly, the talkative side of its script really pleased me. And finally, I really liked the characters, and especially the bad guy! Liste noire is certainly story driven, where the story takes away from the stars, but it’s also, for me at least, a film about its characters.”
How to work with actors,
“I must really know the character so that I can know what to tell the actor and explain to them their motivation, debate and identify with their emotions; to really know the scene and how they normally work to best be able to direct them with a continuity; to have the judgment to nuance their performance; and finally, the choice and values to be able to choose a shot. So even if I’m really interested in its technical side (I like to frame, get good shots, have nice movements, light, and create pretty images) I reserve a capital importance to the work of the actors. It’s they who make the film. The cinema that I want to make is one of emotions.”
Why he edits his own films?
“Well because I like it. We learn so many things about understanding the language of cinema in an editing room while were manipulating the footage oneself. This is such the case that we eventually start to hesitate giving the job to others… The montage ideas come mostly to me in pre-production or while the decoupage where I choose, for 75 percent of the time, the looks of the characters to determine where I cut. At the end of the day, I remain pretty loyal to my own découpage.”
And on its score,
“I told my composer that I wanted something that was equally simple, classic and modern. I set the bar quite high because, as on my working cut, I’ve already included several already existing tracks from Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith, Trevor Jones, Maurice Jarre, Ennio Moricone, Pino Donagio and then I told them: ‘Inspire yourself from these… but remain original.’ They fulfilled by request and exceeded them.”
Finally on Vallée’s American film references,
“My favorite cinéastes are American and my influences are primarily American. So it is sure that there is something American about my films. But it’s not forced, it’s, it’s just my nature! To make a film, for me, this means, wanting to create a good show. I’m interested in cinema in all of its forms (cinephile one day, always a cinephile). To honestly say it, I prefer the films of Clint Eastwood to those of Marguerite Duras. The cinema that I make, and that I want to create, will always be relatively simple. Even in its narrative form the most simple, as I find the cinematographic language is already really complex. To tell a story through images, by the succession of shots, and not by the interior of the shots, can seem banal and easy to attain. But it is not at all evident! Hitchcock had passed his life experimenting one film genre. It’s probably one of the most beautiful lessons to take from the History of cinema. I re-read the book Hitchcock-Truffaut before the filming of each of my films. This reminds me each time that the ‘direction of the spectator’ is just as important as the direction of the actors.”