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Jean-Marc Vallée remembered as ‘a true artist and a generous, loving person’


“The world has lost one of our great and purest artists and dreamers,” wrote Laura Dern, who worked with the Quebec director on Big Little Lies and Wild. “And we lost our beloved friend.”

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Tributes poured in Monday from bereft peers, collaborators, politicians and other fans of Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallée, who was found dead on Sunday by friends at his cabin in Berthier-sur-Mer, about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. The Montreal native was 58.

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Media reports said the Sureté du Québec was called to the cabin in the Chaudière-Appalaches region at about 2:30 p.m., that the cause of death will be confirmed by an autopsy and a coroner’s inquest will be held, but that foul play is not suspected.

“We don’t yet know exactly what happened, but it was death from natural causes,” Vallée’s former spouse, Chantal Cadieux, said in an interview Monday on a headline news channel.

Vallée will be remembered by many for his achingly beautiful, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film C.R.A.Z.Y., set in Quebec during the Quiet Revolution. The 2005 film took home nearly a dozen Genie awards and 13 Jutra awards.

Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of several politicians who expressed condolences on social media Monday, called Vallée “a giant of Quebec cinema.” C.R.A.Z.Y., he tweeted, “will remain one of the greatest works of our national repertoire.”

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Vallée’s 2009 film The Young Victoria — which had Martin Scorsese as one of its producers, starred Emily Blunt and explored the early years of Queen Victoria’s rule — won a variety of awards. But it was the 2013 AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club, which received widespread critical acclaim, six Oscar nominations and three statuettes, that gave Vallée star power in Hollywood.

He would make more films and then move to the small screen. He directed the drama series Big Little Lies , which began in 2017 and starred Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon; it earned eight Emmy awards, including best directing for a miniseries and best miniseries.

Vallée had worked with Witherspoon and Dern on the 2014 film Wild, an adaptation of American writer Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, describing her 1,700-km hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 as a journey of self-discovery. On Monday Witherspoon, Dern, Kidman and Strayed took to social media to express their shock and sadness at his death.

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“The world has lost one of our great and purest artists and dreamers,” Dern posted on Instagram. “And we lost our beloved friend. Our hearts are broken.”

Strayed posted: “My heart is broken by the news of Jean-Marc Vallée’s sudden passing. He was a soulful artist, an extraordinary filmmaker, a wonderful father to his two wonderful sons and a treasured friend to me and to so many. ‘Now we have each other forever,’ we said to each other as we came to the end of the intense time during which we made Wild and became like family. And it was true. He will forever be in my heart.”

Actor Jay Baruchel tweeted that Vallée had always been kind to him. “He was a profoundly gifted artist whose passions and efforts have advanced the medium of cinema and he leaves behind treasures of sincerity.”

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Vallée was known for a naturalistic approach to filmmaking — he even avoided rehearsals sometimes — and frequently used natural light and hand-held cameras.

Telefilm Canada called him “an empathetic and generous visionary in television and film” and said “his work inspired the way we tell stories in Canada and across the world.”

“Jean-Marc Vallée’s passion for filmmaking and storytelling was unmatched,” tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “So, too, was his talent.”

Vallée’s producing partner Nathan Ross said in a statement that “Jean-Marc was a creative and authentic person who tried to do things differently. He was a true artist and a generous, loving person. Everyone who worked with him could see his talent and his vision. He was a friend, a creative partner and a big brother to me.”

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Vallée will be deeply missed, said Ross, “but it is comforting to know that his marvellous style and the deeply personal body of work he shared with the world will survive.”

Montreal Gazette reporter Brendan Kelly met Vallée around the time his award-winning 1995 short film Les Fleurs magiques was released; the film starred Marc-André Grondin as a boy struggling to cope with his father’s alcoholism.

“It was already clear this young man was incredibly driven and had the kind of artistic sensibility you don’t often see,” Kelly recalled Monday in a Facebook tribute. “We always had passionate talks about music. If anything, he was more of a music fan than a film fan. He lived for music.”

Music was a huge part of C.R.A.Z.Y., “with Vallée famously spending over $600,000, an unprecedented amount for a Canadian film, to get rights to songs by Bowie, the Stones and Pink Floyd,” Kelly wrote. “But he said he couldn’t make the film without those songs — and he was right.”

Vallée is survived by his two sons and by three siblings.

Reuters and other outlets contributed to this report.

sschwartz@postmedia.com

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