Au Ciel, Au Ciel…Soulmates aren’t meant to last forever…are they?
I’m not going to lie…this one hurts.
According to our friends over at Deadline, Canada’s own Jean Marc Vallée the director of films like C.R.A.Z.Y., Café De Flore, Dallas Buyers Club, Wild and the HBO Limited series Big Little Lies & Sharp Objects has suddenly passed away at the age of 58 at his cabin outside of Quebec City.
While many of us will wax far more poetically about his canon of work then I ever could in the days and weeks to come, there’s no way to simply state what a huge loss this is not only for world cinema as a whole, but for the Canadian film community at large.
He was one of US and as he brought his unique stylings of storytelling to the screen we were all simply better off having been able to experience these intimate tales that he made feel so epic and truly cinematic. On behalf of the entire staff (and dare I say readership of In The Seats) we can only offer our prayers and condolences to his entire family and friends who have no doubt been gutted by this sudden loss. While we didn’t know him personally, we had the unique pleasure of interviewing him a couple of times and even engaging with him outside of those settings.
First time was during a screening of his transcendent film; Café de Flore at the TIFF Bell Lightbox after it’s run at the Toronto International Film Festival. I was still wet behind the ears and still fairly green in my film criticism career but this screening came for me at the perfect time as it quite simply changed my perspective on what Canadian cinema could be. I was there with a group of friends, we got to ask questions and he was very gregarious with his admirers after the screening even while TIFF officials were very obviously trying to pull him away for a late dinner.
Having been born in Quebec and seeing a French Canadian filmmaker make something that changed the definition of what a Canadian story was in my eyes was obviously a game changer and I was hooked. While it’s very much a global film (we seriously can’t recommend Café De Flore enough) it was a gate way for me into French Canadian cinema that I never looked back from. It’s ironic that it took a screening in Toronto to truly turn this film fan on to all that my old home province had to offer on the big screen, but life is weird like that sometimes. This was November 2011.
Enter 2013 with Dallas Buyers Club and he had officially arrived on the world stage as the film garnered a myriad of nominations and even netted Oscar gold in three categories including supporting actor for Jared Leto and leading actor for Matthew McConaughey. Our guy from Quebec had made good and the Canadian film community could puff out there chest to have someone working on the global stage who wasn’t trying to hide his home country, but understood how to make personal stories on a global level.
Flash forward to 2014 and the Toronto International Film Festival where I am a fully accredited member of the press and find myself in a roundtable interview, not only with star Laura Dern, but the man himself. For almost 30 minutes he engaged with us as we all dove deep into his latest work in a kind and engaged manner. This man was a champion for creativity and authenticity and you could tell that engaging with people who were so interested in his work was one of the happiest places he could possibly be (other then behind the camera) and it was a personal highlight that year.
A scant 12 months later, he’s back at TIFF with his sublime Demolition and I’m in a hotel room with colleagues getting to talk with him once more. Much to my surprise…he remembered me…he remembered a few of us actually and that just made his talk all the more engaging with us and I remember counting myself lucky just to be there once more, but later that night was when the fun began.
That evening he was being honored at the Canadian Film Festival party and was even serving as DJ for an hour during the soiree. Back before social distancing was even something we thought about, this event was jammed to rafters and certainly violating a few fire codes. As you do at these events, you work your way around the room, saying hello to various people and networking while there, but this night I had a clear cut goal, I had to make it to the DJ booth and the dance floor.
Make no mistake that I did because as a filmmaker he had a very distinct vision of the music that he used in his films and the songs he always chose were so pivotal to evoking emotion at any given time, and I wanted to see what he had on his playlist.
He broke out a very eclectic mix that ranged through a host of genres, but it was a very special moment when the strains of the title track from Café De Flore (see below) started seeping through the speakers. I and a select few others let out a howl of approval and a turned up to look at the DJ booth and caught his eye as we smiled at each other in recognition for this very special fan moment that he engineered into his DJ set.
When he was done I got a chance at a brief moment with him, thanking him for the music and congratulating him on all his success and everything else that was sure to come, he shook my hand and thanked me for my work as well.
That was the last time I got to see him in person.
In the years that followed his ventures into long form TV with Big Little Lies & Sharp Objects netted him even more success as he worked on what his next film project would be. There had been talks of a Janis Joplin bio pic with Amy Adams, but nothing ever came to be.
Has been taken from us while in pre-production on a film with no title that IMDB describes as…
The story of a high school boy confronts the psychological demons from his past when he returns home after spend a time on rehabilitation.
What I always appreciated about the man is that in everything he did, he truly gave of himself and we could see it on screen. He poured everything he had into his art and I loved him for it.
Ultimately while we all mourn the man and what gems have been taken from us down the road, I can’t help but be thankful for the films that he did give us and I count myself as so fortunate to have been able to witness so many of them on the big screen.
Jean Marc Vallée was an intimate storyteller with the scope of an epic filmmaker; distinctly Canadian and uncompromising in his creative spirit.
As a fan, his films were akin to being my cinematic soulmates, and while sometimes the universe forces us to move on from what could have been, I for one will never forget who he was and how he changed my life (cinematic and otherwise) for the better.