(b. January 1, 1963)
After studying film at l’Université de Montréal, Jean-Marc Vallée went on to make a number of acclaimed short films, including Les Fleurs magiques (1995), which won the Genie Award for Best Short Film, and Les Mots magiques (1998), which won a Prix Jutra and an award for Best Short Film at the Aspen Shortsfest. His debut feature, Liste Noire (1995), was nominated for nine Genie Awards, including nods for Vallée’s direction and editing.
He made two more features — Los Locos (1997) and Loser Love (1999) — and directed for television while developing his labour of love, C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), with his screenwriting partner François Boulay. The period piece about a young gay man’s relationship with his father (played by Québécois superstar Michel Côté) and his family as he comes of age in the Quebec of the Quiet Revolution took ten years to complete. When the film’s $4 million budget proved inadequate to purchase several key music rights, Vallée sacrificed much of his own salary to secure the songs. (Vallée has often jokingly compared the film to the mixtapes he used to make to impress women.)
C.R.A.Z.Y. was a critical and commercial smash hit, grossing $6.5 million in Canada (earning it the Golden Reel Genie Award for highest box-office gross) and dominating both the Genie and Jutra Awards, winning awards for Best Film and Best Director at both. It won numerous awards at international festivals — including Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival® and the Audience Award at the AFI Film Festival — and was selected as Canada’s official submission for the 2005 Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also named to TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten list of 2005 by an independent, national jury of filmmakers, programmers, journalists and industry professionals.
In 2009, Vallée directed The Young Victoria, a romance about the fabled British monarch (played by Emily Blunt) and her relationship with her eventual husband Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Kept isolated by her power-hungry mother (Miranda Richardson) and her lover, the self-serving and manipulative Sir Conroy (Mark Strong), Victoria knows little about the politics of the court and is pulled every which way, even by those she admires, like Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), her closest confidante before the arrival of Albert. Initially, their marriage is one of political convenience, but, as the Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) script would have it, the relationship blossoms and deepens. Ultimately, Albert helps Victoria assume power and dispense with her enemies, principally Conroy. Produced by a group which included Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, The Young Victoria is a handsomely mounted and affecting period piece (primarily because of the performances by Blunt et al.), but ironically it feels like a much more constrained movie than its predecessor: the crowd scenes, for instance, seem scaled down, and there is no moment as virtuoso as the setpieces in C.R.A.Z.Y. (e.g., the justly famous “Sympathy for the Devil” sequence).
Vallée’s follow-up, Café de flore (2011), cuts between two different time periods to examine two troubled families. In 1960s Paris, young mother Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) struggles to raise her son Laurent, who has Down syndrome. Determined to keep Laurent in the public school system, Jacqueline becomes a self-taught expert on special-needs children, but the claustrophobic nature of their relationship eventually begins to consume her. When Laurent falls in love with a young girl who also has Down syndrome—and begins acting out and demanding independence—Jacqueline finds it increasingly more difficult to cope with the changes. The second storyline is set in present-day Montreal and focuses on Antoine (Kevin Parent), a successful DJ who is raising his two daughters with his new girlfriend (Evelyne Brochu). He’s still on very good terms with his ex, Carole (Hélène Florent), whom he met while in high school, an encounter which sparked a feverishly passionate relationship. Unbeknownst to Antoine, Carole, who is tormented by ever intensifying dreams (nightmares, rather), is convinced that he will eventually return to her—and as the film proceeds, we discover increasingly disturbing connections between her and Jacqueline.
Café de flore feels far more like a genuine Vallée film than its predecessor. As in C.R.A.Z.Y., music plays a key role: Laurent obsessively plays the jazz album which gives the movie its title, the piece initially providing the strongest link between the two time periods; music, of course, is also Antoine’s profession; and certain pieces of music provide insight into the various characters. A meditation on character and destiny with possibly mystic overtones, Café de flore daringly walks the razor’s edge of ambiguity, never completely defending its characters’ beliefs.
Almost as well received as C.R.A.Z.Y., Café de flore was nominated for thirteen Genies (winning three) and seven Jutras (winning three), with Vanessa Paradis winning Best Actress prizes at both ceremonies. Café de flore also won the Best Canadian Film prize at the Atlantic Film Festival; was named the Best Canadian Film by the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, as well as receiving the Best Supporting Actress prize for Hélène Florent; and was voted to TIFF’s annual Canada’s Top Ten list.
Film and video work includes
Stéréotypes, 1993 (director)
Les Fleurs magiques, 1995 (director; writer)
Liste noire, 1995 (director; editor)
Strangers series, 1996 (director; TV, one episode)
Los Locos, 1997 (director; editor)
Les Mots magiques, 1998 (director)
Loser Love, 1999 (director)
The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne series, 2000 (director; TV)
C.R.A.Z.Y., 2005 (director; writer; producer; actor)
Young Victoria, 2009 (director)
Café de flore, 2011 (director; writer)
By: Liz Czach
Additional notes by Steve Gravestock
Updated March 2013