The Québecois invasion of Hollywood
One of the more interesting phenomena in recent years has been the influx of Québecois filmmakers making their mark on the Hollywood landscape and World Cinema in general. The likes of Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée, Xavier Dolan and Philippe Falardeau have recently emerged after years spent cutting their teeth and honing their craft as filmmakers in “la belle province”. Now, more and more projects spearheaded by some these names are being greenlit while attracting big name movie stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon and Naomi Watts in the process. The latest one being Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition starring Gyllenhaal and Watts that’s set to open on the weekend of April 8th.
The purposes of this article is to shed a little light for the uninitiated as to what led up to this emergence of Québecois filmmaking talent as well as to give a little indication as to what it’s all leading up to. I take particular pride in the subject on a personal level as my home province of New Brunswick immediately neighbors that of Québec so there’s a certain sense of local boys making good in the extremely tough and competitive landscape that is show business.
In 2009, Montreal native Jean-Marc Vallée directed his first feature film geared towards the English-speaking world called The Young Victoria which starred Emily Blunt. The film earned a positive critical response as well as 3 Academy Award nominations but its more notable as being the film that really opened the floodgates that would allow Québecois filmmakers to really make their voices heard to a far wider audience. Up until then, filmmakers from Québec had made sporadic splashes in the cinematic universe with the likes of Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) and Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal (1989) and The Barbarian Invasions (2003) which are still considered among the all time greatest films to ever come out of the country of Canada, however none of them were really able to break through and fully reach that coveted American audience. Vallée traces his roots back as a filmmaker all the way back to 1995 when he made his directorial debut with the film Black List. The film would go on to earn 9 nominations at the Genie Awards (now known as the Canadian Screen Awards AKA Canada’s version of the Oscars) that year.
A few lesser known films followed in the wake of Black List but it wouldn’t be until 2005 when Vallée really emerged as a filmmaker to be reckoned with the film C.R.A.Z.Y. The film, a coming of age story about a teen coming to terms with his homosexuality in the 1970s, would go on to be named Best Motion Picture at the 26th annual Genies as well as be named one of the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time by the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015. The success of C.R.A.Z.Y. is what ultimately lead to Vallée being hired to direct The Young Victoria. In the years that would follow, Vallée would continue to make a name for himself as the steady and reliable director responsible for such mini-gems as the 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club for which he directed Matthew McConaughey to his first career Academy Award for Best Actor as well as the underrated 2014 film Wild which also earned Academy Award nominations for its stars Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. His next project is the aforementioned Demolition about a successful banker struggling to cope with the recent passing of his wife. The film debuted at TIFF last year to a somewhat mixed response, however I’m confident that Vallée will be able to bounce back even if his latest film isn’t quite as successful as its predecessors.
Also in 2009, a twenty year old wunderkind by the name of Xavier Dolan was about to release his directorial debut J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), a film in which Dolan not only directed but wrote, produced and starred in as well. The film, an apparently heavily autobiographical account of Dolan’s complex relationship with his own mother (a common theme in a lot of Dolan’s films), would go on to screen at that year’s Cannes Film Festival to a highly enthusiastic response. Dolan would prove to be an extremely prolific writer and director by following up the success of J’ai tué ma mère with other equally successful films such as 2010’s Heartbeats and 2012’s Laurence Anyways. Being openly gay himself, Dolan took great care in creating and molding characters belonging to the LGBT community with both of those films and both films are among the strongest to emerge out of the gay and lesbian film community in recent years.
With all of that said, the film that really put Dolan on the map however, and made him arguably THE hottest young filmmaker working today was 2014’s Mommy. The film which explored a lot of similar themes as Dolan’s debut J’ai tué ma mère and it earned a rapturous response when it screened at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. It would go on to become one of 2014’s most critically acclaimed films and for good reason as it’s one of the rawest and most revelatory films about parenthood ever made. The film would go on to sweep the 3rd annual Canadian Screen Awards winning the awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Original Screenplay. Not bad for a 25 year old eh? Oh and he also directed a little music video by the name of Hello featuring some artist named Adele which apparently scored a couple of million hits on YouTube or something. In the wake of Mommy’s success, Dolan has booked himself a few promising gigs starting with It’s Only the End of the World starring Marrion Cottilard and Léa Seydoux which is scheduled to premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival next month. He’s also set to make his English-language debut with the film The Death and Life of John F. Donovan which is to star Jessica Chastain and Kit Harington.
Philippe Falardeau of Hull, Québec is bound to be the lesser known director to receive the spotlight treatment in this article, however he is equally deserving of mention. Falardeau would kick start his career as a filmmaker with a bang by winning the Best Canadian First Feature Film award at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival for his film La Moitié gauche du frigo (The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge). After several years toiling in relative obscurity, Falardeau really knocked it out of the park with this 4th film Monsieur Lazhar (2011). The film, which Falardeau also wrote, told the story of an Algerian émigré to Canada who is hired to substitute for a elementary school classroom who’s previous teacher committed suicide. The powerfully moving film would go on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film as well as win the award for Best Motion Picture at the Genie Awards that same year. Falardeau transitioned to Hollywood in 2014 with the film The Good Lie starring Reese Witherspoon. Although the film failed to make much a of dent at the box office that year, it was quite well received by critics. Falardeau’s next film My Internship in Canada saw the director returning to his Canadian roots which resulted in a further 4 nominations at the 4th Canadian Screen Awards earlier this year. Falardeau’s next film The Bleeder will find the director returning south of the border once more. The film is set to star the real life husband and wife team of Liev Shrieber and Naomi Watts and it tells the real life story of underdog boxer Chuck Wepner who would go on to inspire Sylvester Stallone to create the character of Rocky Balbao. I don’t know about you but that sounds promising as hell to me.
Last but certainly not least is Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve, the 48 year old director from Gentilly, Québec is arguably the Québecois filmmaker who’s had the biggest impact on Hollywood thus far. Villeneuve’s filmmaking career kick started with the 2000 film Maelström, a film that would go on to win 5 trophies at the 21st Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture and Best Director as well as the award for Best Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival that same year. It would take some time before we’d see a follow up to Maelström but when 2009’s Polytechnique landed, everything changed. The gripping and deeply disturbing film about the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal would go on to win nine Genie Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director once again. That would prove to be only the beginning as Villeneuve’s next film Incendies followed only a year later. Incendies, a powerful and legitimately shocking film about a pair of twins who attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding their immigrant mother’s early life, would become the film that really put Villeneuve on the map by not only sweeping the Genie Awards for a 3rd time but also earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language film. The film was, in fact, favoured early on to win the award until the Danish film In a Better World swooped in at the eleventh hour to take home the prize. From there, Villeneuve made a smooth transition to Hollywood with back to back films starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The first, Enemy, a mind-bending film about a man who uncovers his own doppelganger and then Prisoners, an extremely suspenseful thriller involving the disappearance of two small children which co-starred Hugh Jackman. Both films were critically acclaimed and Prisoners did quite well at the box office as well. His next film, Sicario, an ultra-intense glimpse into the world of Mexican drug cartels starring Emily Blunt landed last fall and would go on to become one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2015. What’s next for the director? First, Story of Your Life, a sci-fi film starring Amy Addams and Jeremy Renner adapted from Ted Chiang’s novel of the same name. And after that? Well, no biggie or anything, just your average, everyday, untitled Blade Runner sequel starring Ryan Gosling that’s all.
These 4 men are really just the tip of the iceberg of what’s out there. For instance, Québec also boasts the talents of Kim Nguyen who’s 2012 film Rebelle (War Witch) earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film that year. Writer and director Louise Archambault hit it big at the 2nd Canadian Screen Awards 2 years ago with her film Gabrielle which took home the top prize for Best Motion Picture. I guess the moral of the story here folks is if you want to know where to look to find the latest crop of promising young filmmakers, look no further than the province of Québec.