The Value of Vallée

By Anthony Sennett


Some may say the golden age of television is over, but that is not stopping Jean-Marc Vallée from making some of the best work this medium has ever seen. Through a viridescent lense, he has crafted two complementary and enrapturing HBO series two years in a row, consisting of Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects. Both of these were adaptations of female authors’ works. Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies follows mothers in a wealthy, Monterrey community, while Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects centers around a reporter returning to her southern hometown. What both of these have in common are their incredible storytelling, crime-driven narratives, and Mr. Vallée.

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Since these are two of the most cinematic television shows of all time, they further prove the absolute strength in choosing to present a story in a limited series format instead of in a feature length film. With Big Little Lies, having the time to develop the tangled relationships of these wives and families made watching the story unravel so much more powerful and engaging. While this show focused on a busy group of characters, Sharp Objects was a completely different story. There were many engaging and fleshed out people in the series, but it was always evident that the main focus was Camille, portrayed by Amy Adams.

Sharp Objects is the definition of a slow burner. It is rare to see a show that is so confident in its narrative that it chooses to take so much time to truly immerse the viewer in this southern town. As we watch all these shots of Camille driving or pondering silently, we are almost blinded by the building tension of the situation, which has proven to be Vallée’s forte. Both Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects have some of the most gripping finale’s modern day audiences have ever witnessed onscreen. While crime driven narratives are almost always attention grabbing, these wouldn’t have been anywhere near as engaging if put in less competent hands.

It would be challenging to come across another television show that uses subtlety in such an effective and prominent way as these shows, especially Sharp Objects. Nothing about it is thrown in your face, which perfectly ties into the unpredictable case Camille is trying to decipher. Flashbacks are scattered throughout both of Vallée’s series, and the way they are revealed are far from random and usually leave an unsatisfied feeling, waiting for more answers. Sharp Objects is definitely the darker of the two, and the amount of shadows and night shots used definitely add to the uneasiness.

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On top of the aesthetic and content similarities, the messages conveyed in these shows are powerful and necessary. In these familial and communal settings, these stories tackled abuse. Big Little Lies’ tore down the shiny veneer away from the town by showing the effects that physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can have on so many of these families. Sharp Objects, however, focused on the effects one abusive mother can have on those she is close to. This, of course, draws the attention to Camille and her mysteriously layered past. Vallée handles her self harm with such care, never making it feel exploitative or simply for shock value. Most people would shy away from such a layered and dynamic character, but Vallée took his time to reveal all the sides of her.

My main takeaway from these shows is the importance of knowing you’re not alone and the necessity of having others to rely on. While this might seem like a stereotypical meaning, Vallée executed it in a way I’ve never seen before. Without his directing, Yves Bélanger’s cinematography, the incredible performances from Nicole Kidman, Amy Adams, and the rest of these incredible casts, the shows could’ve fallen flat. Thankfully, everything fell perfectly into place.

Sunlight Magazine