Michel Côté has often made the whole province laugh on stage (“Broue”), TV (“La Petite Vie”) and the big screen (Cruising Bar), but he’s also an under-appreciated dramatic actor. His turn in “C.R.A.Z.Y.” should prove once and for all that he’s one of our very best. Côté is stirring as a loving but old fashioned father of five boys who we follow over two decades.
The story is told from the point of view of fourth son Zachary, born on Christmas 1960, like the baby Jesus. His mother believes that he has a gift and his father loves his new little guy, but things change as he grows up and turns out to be more sensitive and a tad… effeminate. Émile Vallée is amazingly good as the young Zachary and it’s very sad to watch him as his once close bond with his dad tears apart.
Ellipses are iffy propositions in drama; there’s always a risk that the mood and the audience involvement that you have built will break as you jump forward in time. Thankfully, the transitions in “C.R.A.Z.Y.” are wonderfully fluid and we immediately accept that Zach is now a brooding teenager. It obviously helps that Marc-André Grondin is as great in the role as little Émile. Handsome and mysterious, with mischievous eyes and the soul of a poet, it’s unfortunate that Zach’s father is unable to respect that his child (and the world) is changing.
“C.R.A.Z.Y.” was written and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, whose goal was to make a film that makes one “dream, laugh, cry, sometimes all at once” and sparks a moment of lucidity that “allows to see life as it always should be: beautiful”. Ok, this sounds mighty corny, but it works. And while Vallée’s movie is full of heart, it’s also thoroughly entertaining and visually arresting. The period recreation is convincing, from the fashion to the haircuts and the great soundtrack, where the father’s Aznavour and Patsy Cline are overwhelmed by the son’s Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Bowie and Charlebois. I loved the little dream sequences, too – this isn’t Léolo, but we’re in that ballpark.
Other filmmakers should study this picture’s storytelling, which covers a lot of ground but keeps an attention to detail and makes even the background characters interesting. Zach’s brothers are defined as little more than types (the jock, the nerd, the freak, etc.), but Alex Gravel, Maxime Tremblay and especially Pierre-Luc Brillant fill them out nicely. “C.R.A.Z.Y.” is not flawless; there’s maybe one too many father-son heart-to-heart, yet no truly satisfying resolution. Nonetheless, this is an ambitious, well-crafted and moving film. Don’t miss it.
Blood, sweat and prayers
Jean-Marc Vallée on why it took 10 years to complete C.R.A.Z.Y., his most spiritual effort to date
It’s been 10 years since Jean-Marc Vallée directed his local box-office hit Liste noire, starring Michel Côté. After that he turned his attentions to the States, where he worked on several TV and film projects, including Los Locos – the sequel to Mario Van Peebles’ Posse. Now he’s back with C.R.A.Z.Y., a wonderful new French Canadian feature that reunites him with Côté.
In what may be his most moving performance ever, Côté plays Gervais Beaulieu, a loving but old-fashioned father of five boys: Christian (Maxime Tremblay), Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant), Antoine (Alex Gravel), Zachary (Marc-André Grondin) and Yvan (Félix-Antoine Despatie).
The film spans two decades, which isn’t that long when you consider how long it took to complete C.R.A.Z.Y.’s final cut.
“It took 10 years to make this putain de film à la merde,” says Vallée, who’s calling from his car. “We sweated blood but we loved making it. The people around me got fed up with hearing me talk about it, but we finally got it done.”
While it often seems like the Quebec film industry is overly compartmentalized – pumping out either big commercial movies or small auteur cinéma – C.R.A.Z.Y. is a rarity, combining the best of both worlds. On one hand, it’s clearly a personal, character-driven piece, but at the same time this family saga is also a wildly entertaining crowd-pleaser.
“My take on cinema is that I want to give a good show,” says Vallée. “I love telling a story visually, with plenty of freeze-frames, slow-motion, montage, sound and music. This medium allows for magic, fantasy and even mystique.”
Though the film is mostly based on the memoirs of co-writer François Boulay, who grew up with four brothers and a father who couldn’t accept his homosexuality, Vallée mixed in a lot of his own history. For instance, just like Zachary, Vallée was born with a discoloured lock of hair, which his mother believed meant he had a gift from God.
Along with addressing spirituality issues, Vallée had two other priorities in making C.R.A.Z.Y.: to get enough shooting days to realize all his ambitious ideas, and to raise enough money to secure the very costly music rights for what sometimes feels like an all-out musical.
“I wrote this film while listening to song after song,” Vallée recalls. “I worked hard to integrate them into the screenplay, using them to advance the plot, define characters and set moods. To me, these tunes [Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky,” Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” etc.] are also like prayers.”
As with his protagonist Zachary, who expresses his alienation through classic rock, Vallée was once a lost young man himself – until he met Yves Lever, a former Jesuit who taught a film class at Ahuntsic.
“I was studying administration and I was very unhappy,” he remembers. “That man really changed my life.”
I mention to Vallée that Lever was one of my teachers too, and played a role in me wanting to write about film. Now here I am talking to one of his former pupils. “Isn’t it crazy how these things happen,” I say to him. Vallée agrees.