As exhilarating as The Barbarian Invasions and as audaciously inventive as Leolo, Quebecois director Jean Marc-Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y. (a title derived from the initials of five brothers) has a lot going for it, including one of the best rock soundtracks in recent memory. Scheduled for wider distribution in Canada and the U.S., the film has already grossed six million dollars in Quebec since its summer release and is already Canada's nominee for Best Foreign Film at the 2005 Oscars. Although it cannot be considered entertainment for the whole family, it will not offend anyone and just may become the first gay-themed film to attract a mainstream audience.
The film is about an ongoing struggle between Zac, the second youngest son in a family of five boys and his overbearing, homophobic dad (Michel Côté), a blue-collar worker who collects Patsy Cline recordings. C.R.A.Z.Y. covers a period of thirty years in the life of a suburban Catholic family and has a remarkable feeling for the era. Born on Christmas Day, 1960 Zachary Beaulieu is the second youngest of five sons. The adult Zac narrates the film and we see the world through his eyes. He tells us that the reason why he has always hated Christmas is because the holiday always overshadowed his birthday and because the presents he received were not those he really wanted. He recalls how he received a game of table hockey when all he wanted was a toy baby carriage.
Zac at six (Emile Vallée) is a quiet, sensitive boy who loves his parents but does not get along with his brothers who are always teasing him. Zac's mother (Danielle Proulx) is very religious and believes that Zac has special healing powers, partially derived from the fact that he is always able to quiet the youngest boy, an infant who has colic, just by holding him. When his special powers are reinforced by the "Tupperware lady", it becomes apparent that he will never be like everyone else. When his father Gervais catches him dressing in his mother's gown and pearls while watching baby Yvan, the name-calling starts and their relationship is never the same. Zac prays every night that he doesn't turn out to be a "fairy" but with mixed results. The other boys are more acceptable to their father simply because they are more manly but we never really find out much about them other than the roles they played in Zac's life.
The oldest brother Christian (Maxime Tremblay) has an active intelligence and reads a lot, Antoine (Sébastian Blouin) is a sports nut, and Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brilliant) is a rebellious teen who will eventually get into trouble with drugs (more acceptable to dad than being gay). The brothers are stereotypes but the performances are so full of kinetic energy that it doesn't get in the way. When Zac reaches fifteen, Marc-André Grondin assumes the role and turns in a flawless performance, allowing the audience to feel his pain and torment. Awkward in social situations, he stays in his room listening to David Bowie (whom his father calls "that fag singer") and Pink Floyd. When dad thinks he catches Zac making out with another boy, he forces him to go to a shrink to be cured, but the sessions are terminated when Zac tells him that the psychiatrist blames his father.
Zac wants to please dad so much that he starts sleeping with his best friend Michelle (Natasha Thompson). In fact, Zac resists his orientation so much that he beats up a young gay pursuer to show how macho he really is. The film's third act shifts into the eighties where Zac is working as a DJ, still crazy after all these years. When his father accuses him at his brother's wedding of preferring male companionship, Zac leaves the country, going to Jerusalem to try to discover his identity and to pursue his pleasure in a non-threatening environment. Though there is a touch of nudity, there is no overt sexuality shown and Vallée seems careful not to disturb anyone and the film offers a somewhat pat yet moving conclusion.
Disappointingly, the view of gay life is very limited. Zac seems to have no interests outside of the pursuit of pleasure and no real relationships are shown, either male of female. Yet C.R.A.Z.Y. is more about being different in a conformist society and the struggle for self-awareness rather than just about being gay. As Vallée explains it, "the theme of the film is personal acceptance. It's about this struggle to express yourself and being honest in the moment" Winner of the Best Canadian Feature Film Award at the recent Toronto Film Festival "for its standout acting, its incredible emotional resonance and extraordinary visual inventiveness", C.R.A.Z.Y. is one the best films of 2005.
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