Saturday, June 6, 2015

Upcoming Vallée : Shooting Stars Extinguishing

Jean-Marc Vallée’s upcoming films are Demolition, a Janis Joplin biopic starring Amy Adams, and a John Franklin film. Vallée’s productivity recalls that of a R.W. Fassbinder or Steven Spielberg at their peak, since a new film can be expected each year for the next few years. If there was any doubt regarding Vallée’s commitment to his personal themes and ambitions these upcoming projects confirm just this, his loyalty to himself.
If Demolition was supposed to have been made right after Dallas Buyers Club then with Wild something was liberated in his cinema. After the oppressive and claustrophobic heat of Texas in Dallas Buyers Club, the open-air natural landscapes of California and Oregon liberated something in his cinema. Just like Fantastic Mr. Fox for Wes Anderson, which afterwards led to the uncontrollable youthful adventure of Moonrise Kingdom, after Wild Vallée is now free to go into every direction. He’s now headed towards the sprawl in and around New York City (Demolition), the outdoor concert venues of Woodstock (the Janis Joplin project), and the boating exploration from England to Alaska (Du bon usage des étoiles).
If medical problems have been at the heart of Vallée’s last two films, what they represent in terms of the upcoming Demolition is what it means to loose someone that you’re really close to and that you love and the bereavement that it causes afterwards. Demolition being the story of a man whose wife dies and takes up explosives as a hobby. This was already there in C.R.A.Z.Y. and Café de flore.
There was always alternative music in Vallée’s films from Sigur Rós in Café de flore, to T. Rex in Dallas Buyers Club, to the Jerry Garcia cover-band in Wild. The Janis Joplin project will take this musical streak further by essentially focusing on the folk singer. Wild definitively presents itself as the pre-cursor to the Joplin project in this respect, especially the scenes in the small town which is affected by the death of the Grateful Dead singer.
If the Joplin biopic might have at first glance stand out in terms of its musical subject, and further align Vallée with the Cameron Crowe of Almost Famous, further research into the young musician’s life (e.g. Alice Echols’ Scars of Sweet Paradise) reveals many parallels with many of Vallée’s other characters. The story is that of a young woman singer, who never felt fully respected in her life, who would die too young, in her mid-twenties. She lived her life and her art to the fullest.
But there’s something sad about the Joplin story too that Vallée could probably relate to which is that of not being fully appreciated as an original and personal artist. Even though Vallée is one of the most commercially and industrially successful directors to emerge in Canada over the last ten years (he’s been at the Oscars the last two years; though never on camera) there still aren’t enough people that take him seriously. Respected film websites like Indiewire casually dismiss his work, the French don’t take him seriously, and there are even some British critics that outright mock him. No wonder he’s publicly reserved and does not do many interviews.
His response to this, similar to Stanley Kubrick after 2001 received so many pans from the New York film critics, is to just retreat to his home and family in Montreal and diligently work on the projects that he chooses.
On this subject, his adaptation of Dominique Fortier’s Du bon usage des étoiles seems like it will be his most ambitious project. If Vallée has spoken of wanting to make a science-fiction film then this story of two 19th century British explorers, John Franklin and Francis Crozier, taking their two ships, Terror and Erebus, out to the seas to discover a new world would probably be the closest thing to come to it.
The book itself (which I hear has a great English translation) is pure Valléeian as it includes many episodes that seem to come right out of his cinema.
First off, it’s a Québécois book that takes as its subject a 19th century British explorer. This jumping of borders and its poetic leaps into the air is worthy of the director of C.R.A.Z.Y.. And it’s themes of adventure and exploration, humanity in bleak situations, the lives of great men and their families, and filial bonds and transference are all already trademarks of the cinema Jean-Marc Vallée.
If The Young Victoria was at first was an anomaly in Vallée’s career, a film that he made for Graham King and Martin Scorsese that was eventually compromised, with Du bon usage des étoiles he further builds upon it, and in the John Fordian strain of his cinema, he continues his chronicling of humanity’s history, all of the way now to its origins in 19th century England and what would lead to the modern 20th century civilization.
But similar to Kubrick’s Napoleon project, Du bon usage des étoiles isn’t a glorification of Franklin (he’s barely a secondary character), and the book is more about the second ship captin Crozier, Franklin’s wife and his niece. Franklin even dies, long after their boats have been stuck in the Alaskan ice, in an ellipsis.
Vallée’s cinema is both extremely pessimistic and hopeful. If there’s a lesson to it its of how people fail and die, but there’s always an after. See the remaining quarter of Du bon usage des étoiles after Franklin’s death where life just goes on. But there’s something affirmative about the journey and fight. Looking up to the sky and stars for some imagination can be inspiring. (A similar subject to Matt Johnson’s upcoming Operation Avalanche). Vallée’s cinema, or what it’s like for a shooting star to extinguish.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Greatest Canadian Director

“I really like the film that I made Café de flore.” – Jean-Marc Vallée

The two most important Canadian films are Gilles Carle’s La vie heureuse de Léopold Z and Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. (and, you could probably add to this list, Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche once people get a chance to see it). With these films something changed in the national landscape. They’re poetic leaps in the air, with a total disregard for conventions, and they achieve something that is of the highest order.

Vallée is one of the most unique directors in the country. First off, for his use of music. Similar to Martin Scorsese or Cameron Crowe, Vallée’s soundtracks build character depth and organize the movement of the films. The recent CD release of Wild, with its personal liner notes, is a great example of the attention and care that goes into them. As well, in Café de flore, the main character of the film, who plays a surrogate for the director, is a DJ.

Vallée’s is a post-Spielbergian cinema. The economy of tent-pole blockbusters has created an anxiety within the film industry which has fostered the creation of new filmmaking models. Vallée, who shares many themes with Spielberg (the father-son reconciliation at the end of C.R.A.Z.Y., the humanism of Dallas Buyers Club), then has to make these smaller-scale films, that are centered around universal human dramas and which have a sophisticated directorial style. It’s an approach similar to Steven Soderbergh’s in that they create an alternative filming model, while still attracting A-list stars which guarantees them an audience. There’s even a focus on medicine and health-care which connects both these filmmakers. But what makes Vallée even more essential is the heart and personal drive behind each film. Since Les fleurs magiques, C.R.A.Z.Y, Café de flore and all of the way to his most recent American films he’s been telling the same story. They're all about human imperfection, as comically illustrated in Jean-Marc by Annie St. Pierre, but also that of being a scared child who'se dropped into an unwelcoming world. 

In Café de flore, which is his favorite of his films, he tells the same story as in C.R.A.Z.Y. of growing up in Montreal but now without the François Boulay contribution. It’s his most personal and free work. Some of these personal touches include his cameo in the film or the casting of his son Émile as the character's younger self. 

Vallée’s body of work is larger than its different parts. With Demolition, which comes out later this year, the story continues.