Thursday, July 6, 2017

Vallée Esoterica: Lost Girls and Love Hotels

Would the unrealized Lost Girls and Love Hotels have been an important project for Jean-Marc Vallée? A couple of online articles discuss its possible adaption: It’s 2009, The Young Victoria is about to be released, and Kate Bosworth (21) is planning to star, adapt and produce Catherine Hanrahan’s book with the Québécois director. But instead Vallée would go on to make Café de flore then Dallas Buyers Club and the rest is history (just last week he was honored with an Order of Canada): to tell more personal stories he would discard the weight of studio filmmaking to work more closely with the actors and actresses, a smaller crew, lighter cameras and in a more insular environment.
But what did Vallée exactly see in Lost Girls and Love Hotels? A commissioned job? Something more personal? What could it have added to his oeuvre? Is it best that it was never made? Important questions for a Valléeien to ask.
First off, here is the story of Lost Girls and Love Hotels: Margaret, a young Toronto woman, leaves her family and home, which includes a brother with schizophrenia and her single mother (their father left a long time ago), to live in Tokyo to teach English at a stewardess academy. There Margaret lives in a low-rent apartment with a party friend Ines, gets involved with a gangster Kazu and spends her nights drinking, dancing, high and having sex. Eventually she comes to terms with the trauma of her past and starts to accept herself for who she is. The book ends with an interior monologue: “I tell myself, there is no happy ending. All the pieces do not fit together perfectly. Things are ragged and messy. We are torn apart by events. Put back together differently by others. And somehow everything is beautiful.”
A few things come to mind reading Lost Girls: It’s a perfect fit for Vallée, anticipates his later redemption stories and it’s a shame that he stopped making more personalized projects.
So what’s characteristic of a Vallée story? A child being dropped into an unwelcoming world. Individual perseverance against some form of oppression. Travel as necessary to see the world and to find oneself. Sex, drugs, smoking as important parts of life. Music as essential. And I’m sure that I could go on about more reoccurring themes in his work.
The suggestive title and cover of Lost Girls and Love Hotels might give the impression that it’s about sensational sexual encounters. But it’s actually more about the spirit of the Margaret character: her vulnerability, childhood trauma, aimlessness and friendships. It’s a brisk read of young adult fiction that recalls Enemy, Fifty Shades of Grey and Lost in Translation.
The odd characteristic of books that Vallée has either adapted, or had planned to adapt, is that they all seem have been written in a prose that recalls his visual style, while at the same time being very personal, or at least very individual stories, for their authors (Wild and Lost Girls are the two that come to mind). Are these just Valléeien coincidences?
Just as a reminder of the titles so far in the Vallée literary canon: So far they include Hanrahan’s Lost Girls and Love Hotels, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and Dominique Fortier’s Du bon usage des étoiles. All works by women authors.
But on the subject of symmetries between the books and Vallée’s mise en scène let’s look at Lost Girls as an example. Inside its story, classic pop music makes an appearance through conversation and atmosphere. There’s a focus on a dysfunctional childhood and its family dynamics. Memories appear through stream of consciousness flashbacks. There are certain reoccurring subjects that are touched upon like airports and border crossing, diseases and hospitals. As well, like so many of Vallée’s films (including The Young Victoria and the abandoned Janis Joplin project), they’re all coming of age stories about young woman.
Where something like Lost Girls would fit in the Vallée cannon would be somewhere between the erotic thriller of Loser Love and the young woman rediscovery narrative of Wild. The film would have also provided a great role for the actress Kate Bosworth whose talents are definitively underused. And two things that I think would have made an adaptation of Lost Girls so great is that it would have been Vallée’s first production partly set in Toronto and it would have really delved into his interest in Japanese culture.
But what’s being lost through Vallée’s submission to American production companies – that would rather adapt New York Times best sellers that already have built-in audiences – are some regional specificities, a dilution of his own interests and (most importantly) a director loosing the direction of his own career. However good Sharp Objects will be (and the rumors is that afterwards he might have to do a couple more commissioned projects for some friends), I would rather see Vallée start working on films like his own Les fleurs/mots magiques follow-up, Lost Girls and Love Hotels, the Joplin or even the John Franklin film.
So finally what makes Jean-Marc Vallée exactly Jean-Marc Vallée is slowly being pushed towards the background – the personal desire and force that led him to make C.R.A.Z.Y. and Café de flore. The Jean-Marc Vallée that exploded the Canadian film landscape with a newfound cinematographic ambition mixed with an impressive playlist. Where imagination and fantasy, ambition and dreams, winning and melancholy could rise above the problems of society and an omnipresent cynicism. But since Vallée’s stateside trip in the meantime Québécois cinema seems to have met and exceeded his call for a cinema of the imagination: Vic + Flo ont vu un ours, Nelly, Les démons, Tu dors Nicole and Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié… (with a few of their directors even casting the lead of C.R.A.Z.Y., Marc-André Grondin). It led to a new cinematographic renaissance in Montreal.
Though there’s still something about Vallée that infiltrates his current projects like Sharp Objects. Since he couldn’t make Janis Joplin film (which I imagined the show being initially a test-run with Amy Adams for it), Sharp Objects will have to make up for it. You can see parallels between both projects as they're both about a young vulnerable artist (here a journalist), sensitive to their own feelings and surrounding, and when confronted with a cold, cruel and violent world, through their perseverance to their passion and work (however underappreciated they are), the consequences will lead them to their own personal resignation and possible death. It’s the same narrative drive that leads to the plane crash at the end of Café, Ron Woodroof’s martyrdom in Dallas Buyers Club and finally the fate of both Janis Joplin and John Franklin.
But as Anne Marie Fox’s amazing Instagram account shows (and we’re still waiting for the special features on the Big Little Lies boxset), Vallée is a consummate professional, still light-hearted and a team leader. He knows what he’s doing: Modestly siting in the shadows, waiting to share his prediction of the future with the rest of us. But the question remains: Could Vallée be lost to the American system or is his best work still to come?

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