Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Brian de Palma at Cahiers du Cinéma in the 80s

Brian de Palma started his career in 1968 with the full-length features Murder à la Mod and Greetings. Before these he only made a few short-films. In France at this time there were the mass student riots and at Cahiers du cinéma their focus went from from Hollywood cinema to politics, from writing reviews to engaging with theory. So when Cahiers in the late Seventies was slowly transitioning back to writing about more mainstreams films they were still writing about more engaged works, like those by Jean-Marie Straub and Chantal Akerman and Wim Wenders. But they were now again writing about more mainstream productions and in this period that meant films like Annie Hall, Star Wars, Jaws and Apocalypse Now. They needed new director figures to look up too that, like themselves, were renewing their belief in the potentialities of the cinema with a special emphasis on its ability to instill wonder and be brilliant. They were resurrecting their cinephilia and the best films that encaptured this were these films malade that both had a connection to the classical cinema of yesteryear, were skeptical of narrative, and still found faith in it. The reviews were written by imposing writers with strong positions and they would leave their mark at the magazine. This is one of the most exciting period in the magazine's history as they were able to bridge theory with cinephilia and their thought was riddled with self-contradiction. Some writers that really stand out from this period include, among others, Serge le Péron, Jean-Claude Biette, and Jean Narboni.

This brings us to Brian de Palma and the first time that he's brought up in the magazine is in Pascal Kané's analytic review of Phantom of the Paradise, Note sur le cinéma de Brian de Palma in the June '77 issue (No. 277) and then Bernard Boland ambivalently reviewed The Fury in the April '79 issue (N.299). But it wasn't until the Eighties that de Palma's reputation really took off, most notably by the influence and the aesthetic position of Jean Douchet. There is the famous text Douchet décortique De Palma (N.326) where Serge Daney writes,
“22, April 1981. During the thirtieth anniversary of Cahiers and in front of a huge cake which is decorated like a scene from Rear Window, Jean Douchet, an old writer from the Cahiers Jaune days and current, attentive reader shares with us something that has been bothering him: do we like Brian de Palma enough?”
And then de Palma was featured in their Made in U.S.A. issue (N.334-35). Daney writes,
“"Yes, what happened to you guys?" This is the first response that Brian de Palma gave us. How could, Cahiers du cinéma, miss my films for ten years? A serious questions. We are embarrassed. Of course, since Jean Douchet encouraged us to dissect De Palma (Journal des Cahiers, N.326) and since I attended a frantic projection of Blow Out, with Travolta in presence, I know that our injustice towards De Palma will be unmasked. It is a matter of months, weeks, and days. That's it.”
But what did they write about de Palma's films when they came out in the Eighties? The decade opens for de Palma with his professor-student film Home Movies (1980), which was not reviewed in the magazine, probably because it never came out in France. As well during the decade, one of his weaker films, Wise Guys (1986) was also not reviewed, I assume, because it didn’t come out in France (or maybe they didn’t bother with it, I don’t know). To follow in a vein of what I did with de Palma's 2000s films. Here is the following.

Dressed to Kill (Cahiers, July-August 1981, N.326), w/ Cahiers Critique by Alain Philippon, Le psychiatre était blonde, and Le Journal article, Douchet décortique De Palma.

Alain Philippon's article, Le psychiatre était blonde, has the subtitle, De Palma Hitchcock, Le sex fait rire, Cache-cache, Les orphelins, which translates to The psychiatrist was blonde: De Palma-Hitchcock, sex makes us laugh, visual tricks, orphans. These issues will be addressed directly in the article and would be the recurring themes in de Palma's films that will be elaborated upon in the upcoming decade. The orphan in the cinema will also be a recurring figure that will addressed in Cahiers during this period (c.f. Carax's review of Paradise Alley). Philippon's writing during the Eighties are one of its many highlights as he would leave sometime in the Nineties and he died young. His writing would be collected in the book Le blanc des origines.

Philippon begins his review by emphasizing the De Pama-Hitchcock comparison,
""Brian de Palma, the new Hitchcock": a promotional claim for some while totally contemptuous for others, this debate is started anew. There is something to it though, in the critical discourse, a facile quality to this that is easy to denounce. Certainly, there are similarities between De Palma and Hitchcock, but it isn't solely as a cinephilic homage à la Téchiné, nor a parody à la Brooks, nor theft à la James Bond. We are probably closer to the methods of the pastiche of Polanski (with an exception of the vampire film) [...] And like with Hithcock, all of his fictions revolves around the figure of the Mother, here absent, and that will ruin Kate's birthday."
Then Philippon elaborates on De Palma's technical abilities,
"Split screen, camera tricks, televisions, mirrors, lenses: for de Palma, it's not so much that he's thinking about the cinema than he's making the cinema think, and to play with this. It's like hes working on a scenario that has already been written (Psycho), about a story that we've seen already many times before (the psychiatrist and the madman), he has the nerve to play with the cinema-machine and to be enraptured like a child playing his own game [...] We are in the realm of jubilation, and De Palma's is in particularly communicative."
And finally Philippon concludes on some of de Palma's themes,
"There remains to say something about de Palma's thematic that he explores a little more with each new film: the relations between generations. If the adults disappoint, it is then the children that get de Palma's attention: Liz, the prostitute, remains childish, a roundness, a brightness in her eyes [...] Peter, a young genius tinkerer, has left his mother to die while he spent his time with his machine. Machines, there will be more of them, to find the assassin and to save Liz. In Dressed to Kill there is no longer parents. There remains only machines and images."
Blow Out (Cahiers, March ‘82, N.333), w/ Cahiers Critique by Michel Chion, De l’écoute comme désir.

The Blow Out review is written by Michel Chion who would become an expert in writing about sound in cinema and write several books on the subject (e.g. Film, a Sound Art).

In the review Chion highlights in depth the sound in the film,
"Those that were expecting, from a film with a recording as a subject, a festival of special sonic effects will be disappointed. Brian de Palma works with sound on a conceptual level, not on a substantial one; more exactly, Blow Out's subject is less sound then it is hearing [...] De Palma doesn't treat the ear orally, like a hole or a receptacle to be filled (cf. like those films that nourish us with their soundtracks, like Altered States, Wolfen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that forget about engaging with the "desire for sound") [...] All of this could make one believe that the film is cerebral, a brilliant game: but we know from elsewhere, we've said it elsewhere, that de Palma knows how to communicate the pleasures of filmmaking; that he has the temperament of a musician (I prefer the "visual music" of his framing and editing then that of his composer Pino Donaggio); that his images are so magnificent, colored, violent; and that there is in his films a mixture of logic, intelligence, invention, movement and sensuality that is unique to him alone."
And in conclusion Chion writes,
"And emotions? I've felt them in Blow Out to be fully immersed and affected, and reflecting about it afterwards. Especially in face of the remarkable acting by Nancy Allen and John Travolta, a couple of surveying orphans, floating around in a pathetic fashion in a world that doesn't give them the space to assert their own desires; here the psychopathic killer becomes himself a sort of lamentable and stammering figure, a symptom of his symbolic hole."
Scarface (Cahiers, March ‘84 N.357), w/ Notes sur d’autres films review by Michel Chion.

Chion returns to review another de Palma film, which he is more ambivalent about. After a description of its plot, Chion writes,
“Even with its many faults, this new film from de Palma is still an excellent thriller, actually one of the best in recent years, and, as a film by this director, a less accomplished, structured, personal work even though it has a great production design (especially the Babylon nightclub) that the mise en scène doesn't really encompass. It's just that the film is, paradoxically, a lot better where de Palma has never really tried to assert himself and where others, like Lumet and Coppola, excelled (the painting of modern gangsterism and its relationship with the banks; as a gallery of a variety of human figures by way of excellent casting, Al Pacino is fantastic, and so are the secondary characters like Steven Bauer as "Many" and Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira), while it is weak in the scenes that we would have believed he would have made fantastically perverse, obsessional and innovative.”
Body Double (Cahiers, February ’85, N.368), w/ Cahiers Critique by Olivier Assayas, La place du spectateur.

Olivier Assayas is best known today as a director with an impressive body of work, his two most recent films are Carlos and Something in the Air, but like the New Wave directors before him, he started out as a critic at Cahiers. His filmmaking beginnings coincided with that of Leos Carax, who also started out by writing at Cahiers. Assayas as a critic wrote many travel pieces, he contributed to a good China issue and wrote some good reviews on the films of George Lucas, Clint Eastwood and John Carpenter. As I hope these surveys makes clear the overall group-think enthusiasm in the reviews reflect a solidarity at the magazine. The reviews reflect their authors and their individual writing style.

In Assayas' reviews of Body Double he discusses the plot and themes of Body Double, how the filmmaking is comparable to Hitchcock, and he compares it to Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

Assayas writes,
“In the unanimity that surrounds the work and memory of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma occupies a singular position. For several years now, his films – excluding Scarface – present themselves as variations on Hitchcock’s themes. Vertigo for Obsession, Psycho for Dressed to Kill, Vertigo again for Body Double. Hitchcock by way of his audacious formal innovations, the complexities of his mechanism – which is really close to the work of the avant-garde – and how he remained a cineaste of narration and by this he was really ahead of his time. By isolating his figures, Brian de Palma is making an adventurous gamble. He is supposing that there exist something more than just their signifiers. He is according a archetypal value not to situations but to the dispositifs, postulating that these dispositifs are the sole subject of cinema. […] This confusion of perception, this uncertainty towards the tangible limits of the imaginary, of desire and phantasms, is undoubtedly the great contemporary subject. And so few filmmakers have treated it with such acuity like Brian de Palma who, with each new film, imposes himself as one of the most passionate directors working today in the Hollywood system.”
On Jake Skully’s obsessions, Assayas writes,
"The body that he desires – in terms of an image - since the beginning and abused by the intense mise en scène of the hardcore film, reconstructs the broken-up character, and this is purely cinematographic. This is the subject of Body Double, or at least its title."
Assayas conclusion is especially good,
“In all of his last films, De Palma has amused himself by inserting, one way or another, an adaptation of the shower sequence in Psycho. We are amazed at first sight to not be able to find it in Body Double and yet it is there, in a similar fashion to the games in those ancient children magazines, it is hidden in the landscape. Indeed we often ignore that it isn’t Janet Leigh who acts in the scene aside for a few close-ups. The scenes required images of nudity that were too bold and Hitchcock had to use another actress, who remains anonymous, as a body double. So the shower sequence remains the most famous example of a ‘body double’ in the history of cinema. As the ultimate complicit wink, it is with a shower sequence that De Palma ends the film with the credits scroll through. Jake Skully in the role of the vampire – a particularly derisory vampire - rapes a woman in the shower. At the moment where he is going to fondle her breasts, the metteur en scène, Rubin, interrupts the action. Scully freezes, the actress, she, goes away, and is replaced with another actress that will double for her. With the ‘bouble body’ in place, the action can start again and they film the close-ups of suggestive caressing. The Body Double is achieved."
The Untouchables (Cahiers, October ’87, N.400), w/ Deauville Film Festival Coverage by Iannis Katsahnias, Eisenstein, Koulechov et Nous.

Katsahnias' writes, “Can a mise en scène have a meaning? First of all, what kind of meaning are we particularly referring to? That of an orientation or of signification? Because for the cinema the method that we place the camera can determine the meaning of the film.”

Katsahnias then brings up the Kuleshov effect, Eisenstein, and the montage of attractions. He continues,
“Now I must truly confess. If I chose to speak about these Russian filmmakers in an article about the cinematic adaptation of The Untouchables by Brian de Palma, it is not to check their moral level, but rather because de Palma uses their ideas in his mise en scène. It remains to be seen if this mise en scène and effects, in particular on its public, has a moral sense."
Katsahnias elaborates,
“The scenario is simple, the fight is hard like in westerns, and the challenge is nothing other than the box-office. Since de Palma believes more in style than in the armed forces, it’s through the efficiency of his mise en scène that he will try to conquer the public and to impose on the film industry a different image of himself than an obsessive author who solely pays tribute to Hitchcock. To do this he will use the technologies that were invented by the Russian masters, and in a sequence that will remain in the viewer's mind as the film’s great bravura set-piece, he will theoretically demonstrate of the Kuleshov effect and the montage of attractions. To create theory in a film that costs twenty-five million dollars and which makes seventy-million isn’t obvious. See what moral can be drawn…”
Katsahnias analyzes the scene in the Grand Central station where Kevin Costner is helping a mother push her stroller. And after the Battleship Potemkin-style shooting this baby is laughing after the stroller has been pushed. Katsahnias’ asks what this represents, 
“Who is this baby? But the primary spectator of the film, of course, for whom all this mise en scène is a source of pleasure. Those that seek a moral aside from than this mise en scène, wanting to prove its credibility to the viewer and the industry would better look somewhere else. The Untouchables has nothing else to offer them.”
Casualties of War, Le spectacle de la guerre, Événement, Les Films du Mois, by Iannis Katsahnias, Jan. ‘90 (N.427).

The decade culminates with Casualties of War. Around this time Cahiers would revamp the layout of the magazine. In this particular issue they focused on film’s relation to history and in particular the Vietnam War as they also reviewed Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July - both films being Événements. Iannis Katsahnias, who was a prominent film critic at the magazine in this period, writes one of his best reviews.

 “History. “You take a picture of the Vietnam war (taken by an American) and a picture from Playboy, then you ask yourself at what moment you started getting excited by the naked women in Playboy. So you do some research, you consult the Filipacchi collection, and you think about the word play and the word boy, and you discover that the first issue of Playboy came out at the same time that the agreement to end the war in Vietnam was signed at the Kléber avenue,” wrote Godard in a letter to Claude Jaget that was published in Cahiers N.300. On the left page, opposite the text, we could see the face of a young Vietnamese women who resembles Thuy Thu Le, the actress who plays the victim in Casualties of War. Just below, there are three American soldiers, one whom is injured. Two pages later, Godard speaks of Hitchcock, where an ass is contrasted with his actress. By freely associating the Vietnam War, Playboy models and Hitchcock, Godard was making his own Casualties of War ten year before its realization. The history of cinema is unpredictable. It is created by permanent back-and-forth between the present, past and future. Thought doesn’t follow images - it precedes them. We don’t make films to see but to re-see (the primal scene, History). But this desire to re-see remains in a permanent unsatisfactory state. This is why the nightmare never ends, nor analysis.
Camouflage. I’m going to put forth a hypothesis that is probably verifiable. What if the French translator really saw through the film (once is possible) of translating Casualties of War (victims of war) to Outrages? By doing this weren’t they revealing to everyone the unconscious of the film ridded of all fictional and documentary camouflage? And don’t all of Brian De Palma’s films tell this same story of his outrage towards corruption?
Consciousness. Casualties of War describes a consciousness… Its first ambiguity: de Palma doesn’t describe here the battle of good against mal (like would Hitchcock), but that of the good against the male (see the connection between the crimes and the soldier’s sexual excitation).
“SequenceThis decision to put the narrative in quotations hides more than just this idea of the dream: to tell a story in one long sentence and to master it from the start to the finish… The first bravura sequence: the scene in the underground tunnel. It’s a gag by de Palma where he is parodying Jaws as a way to console the spectator, to reassure them by demonstrating that A + B (a body stuck in the ground, a subterranean threat, legs struggling to get out) and that he’s on familiar territory for the American cinema.
“Sperm. Eriksson and Indiana Jones, same fight? Not at all. Because for de Palma a sequence implies a loss of sperm… Eriksson finds himself in the place of the dreamer who would have enjoyed involuntarily in his sleep seeing a sexual dream that was mixed with violence: a collective rape followed by a massacre. Eriksson finds himself in the role of the spectator who finds himself enjoying the shower scene in Psycho (or one of its many remakes done by de Palma himself). The spectator (and through him, the filmmaker, skirmish between two contradictory impulses: the mastering of his unconscious and the act of seeing. All of Brian de Palma’s oeuvre is made of this permanent back-and-forth between mastery (the rapport to masters, therefore fathers) and voyeurism (the rapport to spectacles, therefore pornography). Leaving aside the current obscenity of cinema to attack History, de Palma succeeds his audacious gamble: to put all of America in the position of the spectator who is delirious in front of the spectacle of war.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The History of Positif Vol. IV

"To continue, obsessed with maintaining its "great-auteurist" line, hermetic to all "neo-cinephiles" and loyal to its organizational rubric to the point of fussiness, Positif will still interest in the future but will no longer bring enthusiasm, despite relevant choices it can still make and brilliant contributions they may publish. Their reputation, legitimacy and position has been guaranteed for a long time, for them to re-find the taste of the offensive and the dynamism of its best times, it should probably start looking for a solution in its "eccentricity"."

Edouard Sivière concludes the history of Positif, from the years 1996 to 2013, at his blog Nightswimming.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Vic + Flo Saw A Bear at the Lightbox (Opens November 22nd)

"There is a Fassbinder quality to it in its exploitation of sentiment. These women exploit their wounds. The worst would be if people can't attach themselves to these women. It isn't that the attachment needs to be total, but the goal is that the public would like these women. I think that this is my most autobiographical film. Like Victoria and Florence, I'm not a good citizen, nor am I a recluse, but I don't participate in the life of the city, I watch the events from a distance." - Denis Côté

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear begins its theatrical run on Friday, November 22nd at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Cinema of Jean-Marc Vallée

It needs to be said: Jean-Marc Vallée is one of the greatest filmmakers. There are few commercial filmmakers, in Canada or abroad, that can create as expressive and emotive imagery. It wasn’t until his third, out of his six features and shorts, that he broke out and became popular, and since C.R.A.Z.Y there has been The Young Victoria, Café de Flore and now Dallas Buyers Club. And with each new film he has been getting better and more ambitious.

Vallée’s creative process is unique and is worth discussing. He picks new projects for their story and characters instead of their potential themes. When writing a script he makes sure to write lines of dialogue that he intends to be portrayed by gestures. Music is a key inspiration for him: he sends his actors music CDs for them to better understand their character, and he plays music on the set to communicate the emotional feelings that he wants to convey in that scene. Even though he describes himself as being part of the less-is-more school, his acknowledged cinematic influences are Scorsese’s expressionism and Eastwood’s classicism. 

But I don’t necessarily think that these two directors accurately describe what makes Vallée’s cinema so special. The two other directors that come to mind are Brian de Palma and Steven Spielberg, especially for his last two films. Café de Flore accomplishes what Cahiers sees in de Palma, especially the scenes of the DJ working, as it “conveys the pleasures of filmmaking – the director’s temperament is that of a musician.” With Dallas Buyers Club Vallée has now made his Spielberg film: it’s just like Schindler’s List. Ron Woodroof transformation throughout the film is like Oskar Schindler's in that he started out as a self-interested entrepreneur and grew to care and save these people in need. These examples illustrate how Valleé went from creating abstract visual expressions (c.f. Vallée and Kandinsky) to political forms (c.f. Dallas Buyers Club). 

Vallée's cinema achieves what Jean Grémillon described as, “To seize the heart of the drama with a profoundness that bites at the heart of things” and are about “the atrocity of contradictions that are insurmountable and that tear up people.” In the face of threat, disease and death, Dallas Buyers Club’s spirit is a site of hope. What does Ron give Dr. Saks when trying to befriend her when they go out to a restaurant? His only remaining childhood possession: a painting of flowers by his mother. The creation of images is personal, art can move us, and hope is inspiring.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dare to Live: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof who at the height of the AIDS crisis, after having been diagnosed with the disease, created a Buyers Club in Dallas to distribute an experimental treatment, which the FDA hadn’t yet evaluated. Mary Franklin, who was a receptionist at the Dallas Buyers Club, describes how its patients felt about the clinic, "I know it made them feel more powerful about their disease," Franklin says. "That they had a fighting chance, which is something the government was not offering.” Even though the film is poeticized (c.f. How Accurate Is Dallas Buyers Club?) it's strictly Woodroof’s story.
Dallas Buyers Club is a political film in that its subject is the governing and administration of the state. What are the responsibilities of the hospital institutions to the populace infected with this fatal disease? What are the pharmaceutical steps to find a medicinal cure? How do these two groups, the drug administration and the pharmaceutical companies, organize themselves to find a solution? Who are they accountable to? Are their methods transparent? How are their results disseminated in the media?
            These are some of the hard questions that are asked in Dallas Buyers Club and it does not offer any easy answers. It isn’t didactic on these issues but it's still succinct and direct in its engagement with them through its images and sounds. Dallas Buyers Club, like all of Vallée’s films, is about an individual reacting to a form of oppression. In C.R.A.Z.Y. the oppression is familial, in The Young Victoria it's patriarchal, in Café de Flore it's marital, and in Dallas Buyers Club it's medical.
Dallas Buyers Club presents this medical conflict sometimes in broad gestures, for example Woodroof's confrontation with the FDA is Capraesque. There are also scenes of social protest that are more subtle and recall The Case of the Grinning Cat while some other scenes are more critical and recall The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein. But what makes Dallas Buyers Club so unique is how Vallée brings all of these elements together to create an emotional experience that is also a site of resistance, empathy and utopian possibilities.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Le Meilleur

"No, to be truthful to yourself and the desire—why you want to make a film and how you embrace filmmaking. What is the sparkle? When I think of directors that I like, I related to that. I like the fact that they are like kids playing with a big toy trying to explore and to have fun. To be at the service of a subject and a story, and submerge themselves into that and try to give an audience a great ride for two hours in the dark, with images, sound, music, silence. When I see great film, I have this feeling of "Oh, wow! Wasn't that great? Wasn't that good? I want to do something. I want to scream and go out there and participate and embrace life. Press on the pedal and accelerate." For me, a guy like Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Soderbergh, they have such a beautiful understanding of the medium of what filmmaking is—how they explore it and use it to tell stories and move us and make us dream. I guess the dream part is important. Maybe that's what makes a good director. The dream factor.” 
Follow the link to read the Interview magazine interview with Jean-Marc Vallée about his new film Dallas Buyers Club

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.

Matthew McConaughey and Jean-Marc Vallée on Dallas Buyers Club

Jean-Marc Valleé Master Class

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Francine" by Brian M. Cassidy & Melanie Shatzky

There can sometimes be total awe in front of a film. This can happen when its protagonist is so unique that it shakes up one’s predispositions. The characters shouldn’t be portrayed in sensationalist way but instead highlighted for their rare individuality. It can’t be condescending. For it to feel honest there should be a warmth coming from the director’s gaze. This is Francine. It’s not that this older woman, strangely played by Melissa Leo, is purposely opaque but its just that one can't extrapolate her motives. Set in the Hudson Valley, Francine gets out of jail and then struggles to create a new life for herself. She gets different jobs, love interests and pets. Samuel Adelaar described Francine as part of a new style of filmmaking that, “depicts characters experiencing natural phenomena.” For example, Francine joins a mosh pit by a parking-lot to watch a metal band. At first she dances and then she starts to cry. In Francine, similar to their documentary The Patron Saints, the directing pair Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky bring to the fiction film an experimental social-documentary style with that of a Beckettian absurdism. Because of this Francine beautifully illustrates cinema's capabilities to be both realisitic and hallucinatory.

Monday, November 4, 2013

FRANCINE at Double Double Land (Monday, November 4th)

 MDFF presents a special screening of Brian M. Cassidy & Melanie Shatzky's Francine on Monday, November 4th at 8PM at Double Double Land.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Jean-Marc Vallée's masterpiece Dallas Buyers Club opens today, Friday November 1st.