8 years before he made his debut in Hollywood with Dallas Buyers Club and 12 years before he won an Emmy Award for Big Little Lies, Jean-Marc Vallée released what is, for me, one of the best French-Canadian films ever made: C.R.A.Z.Y. Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria, and Wild were great but, in my opinion, never surpassed the quality of this film I’m going to talk to you about.
Honestly, there are so many great things to say about this film. I wouldn’t know where to start. C.R.A.Z.Y. is that type of film that makes me proud of our French-Canadian movie industry and that gives it a good reputation. You might have heard of it or even saw it as, on its released, it gained not only a national recognition but also an international one. The film represented Canada for the Best Foreign language Film Oscar, but unfortunately wasn’t selected as a finalist for the competition.
When Vallée’s masterpiece was released in 2005, I was only 9 or 10 so didn’t immediately saw it as it deals with themes you don’t necessarily understand at that age. But I remember my parents seeing it at the movie theatre and saying it was great. So, I eventually see it with them and my sister a few years later and I was in awe. It eventually became my favourite French-language Canadian film and it surely is in my top five movies of the 21st centenary. You see, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a perfect national movie as it deals with our local culture but there’s also something about it that makes it internationally accessible. It’s the kind of story that could happen in many places.
But what is it about? C.R.A.Z.Y is a coming of age drama telling the story of young Zachary “Zac” Beaulieu (Marc André Grondin), born on Christmas and who has to deal with a sexual identity crisis. The film takes place in Quebec during the 60s, 70s and the beginning of the 80s. Zachary is the 4th one of a family of five children. As a child, he and his father (Michel Côté) share a beautiful complicity. He is his hero. But when Zach starts revealing a non-masculine side and a possible homosexuality, war is declared. His father doesn’t accept it so things between them aren’t the same anymore. However, has Zach wants to get his father’s love back, or, should I say his complicity (because his father doesn’t stop loving him despite everything), he himself has difficulty to accept his sexual orientation. But everyone has a breaking point… Luckily, in times of crisis, Zac’s mother (Danielle Proulx), a wonderful woman, is always here to support him.
Aside from being a truly “crazy” film (in the good sense of the term), C.R.A.Z.Y., stands for two things: Zac’s father, Gervais, is a fan of Patsy Cline and her song “Crazy”. Also, the letters that form the words are the first letters of Zac and his brother’s names: Christian (Maxime Tremblay), the nerd who reads anything, including ketchup bottles and cereal boxes; Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant), the rebel and junky, Zac’s “worst enemy”; Antoine (Alex Gravel), the athlete; Zachary; and Yvan (Gabriel Lalancette), the youngest one.
C.R.A.Z.Y. was praised for his realistic representation of a middle-class family of 60s-70s Quebec. The quality of this film also resides in the fact that it is an highly creative movie. After all, Jean-Marc Vallée spent between 5 and 10 years writing it with co-writer François Boulay (who’s personal memories of growing-up inspired the story). So, the result couldn’t be mediocre.
We first have to take a look at the varied characters and their incredible performers.
C.R.A.Z.Y. is the film that put Marc-André Grondin on the map of Quebecois cinema. At the time the film was made, he was 20-21, which is Zac’s age at the end of the film. His portrayal of Zac is one that can allow many viewers to identify with him. The role is complex, so probably wasn’t an easy one to play. It’s a character that constantly changes and tries desperately to find himself in order to “fit” in a particular environment. Zac’s knows moments of joy, anger, sadness, hate, and happiness. A certain versatility for such a role was necessary and Marc-André Grondin did it with brio.
Michel Côté who plays the boy’s father, Gervais, probably is one of the main reasons why I love this film. I think I can say that he is my favourite Quebecois actor. He is known as one of our best stage and on-screen actors. Playing the role of Gervais Beaulieu implies putting himself in the skin of someone with whom he didn’t necessarily share the ideologies. Côté has an incredible charism which he transmitted perfectly to his character. Because Gervais Beaulieu is the type of man that owns a place when he’s in it. His character knows also different moments of complex emotions and the clash between his and Zac’s ones creates amazing fireworks. What I love about Michel Côté also is his very natural acting game and that’s a quality we can find in many local actors here in Quebec. I work in a movie theatre and Michel Côté sometimes attends special events there such as Q & A for the promotion of his films or, as I’ve been told, sometimes just come to see a movie! I haven’t seen him yet (I started working there in late August) but if I ever do, I will probably faint.
Danielle Proulx who plays Zach’s mother is an actress I first knew thanks to the children television show Cornemuse. Every kid from my generation know this program. Danielle also was part of the distribution of Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar, which was nominated at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. Laurianne Beaulieu is one of the most beautiful characters of the film. Quebec uses to be a very Catholic place but it began to change precisely in the 60s with the venue of new ideologies and the Quiet Revolution. Mrs. Beaulieu is a strong believer, but her acceptance of her son’s sexual orientation sort of incarnates that clash of culture and ideologies that Quebec knew in the 60s and 70s. The complicity she has with her son is strong and different from the one he has with his father. You see, Zac can never fear to lost his mother’s love. This would simply be impossible. To her, Zach is very special as he was born the same day has Jesus. Danielle Proulx touches our heart infinitely with her protrayal of Mrs. Beaulieu. She shows, yes, a sensibility, but also an incredible strength. She is a woman of the Revolution.
Of course, all the other actors in this film are incredible as well, but I decided to focus on the three main ones, otherwise, this text would be way too long! Interesting fact: young Zachary Beaulieu was played by Jean-Marc Vallées son, Émile, who showed a great potential as a child actor.
Music is one of the most important elements of C.R.A.Z.Y. As a matter of fact, $ 600 000 CAD were invested in the music only as many the music rights had to be obtained. Jean-Marc Vallée even had to cut his own salary for it. The music truly defines the atmosphere of the film and any great music lover would be amazed by the choice of the songs from legendary artists such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, and more.
Jean-Marc Vallée knew perfectly how to include the songs to the story and really made them “part of” the film. Some of the best scenes are the ones where the music takes a lot of space.
From the first minutes of the film, you know it won’t be an ordinary one. It all starts with Elvis. Images of a baby (Zac) in his mother’s tummy are shown to us. It’s first almost silent and, slowly, we start hearing Elvis’s singing “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”. We then move to the next scene where the Beaulieu’s are celebrating Christmas’s Eve until Mrs. Beaulieu’s waters breaks and the family has to head to the hospital for Zac’s birth.
If Zach and his father share a common interest, it’s certainly is their passion for music. They both have different music tastes (being from different generations), different but all great. Gervais Beaulieu not only his a fan of Patsy Cline but also of French singer Charles Aznavour. Every Christmas, he traditionally to sing his beautiful song “Emmenez-Moi”, which is probably the song we hear the most often in the film.
If I can identify myself to Zac, it’s thanks to his obvious love for David Bowie who also is my idol. We LOVE Zach’s bedroom as it is decorated with posters of the singer and iconic vinyl records such as Space Oddity, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs are part of his music collection. The “Space Oddity” scene is one of the most iconic of the film and is a glorious moment. I’ll let you watch it:
Zach also loves Pink Floyd and, as you saw in the previous video, his bedroom is beautifully decorated with The Dark Side of the Moon colour prism. Zac’s transition from childhood to teenagehood is brilliantly made with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.
So many great songs are part of this film, but I’ll finish this musical discussion with another of the film’s most glorious moment: the “Sympathy for the Devil”‘s moment. Zac puts The Rolling Stones’ album and we transit to the church where he attends the Midnight Mass with his family. The song continues to play in Zac’s head but, suddenly, everybody starts being part of it, including the priest. This is a very fantasist moment as it surely only happens in Zac’s mine, but we love it.
Here are both “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Sympathy for the Devil” scenes!
So, as you realize, C.R.A.Z.Y. wouldn’t be the same without this impressive soundtrack. The film doesn’t contain any original music, but it honestly doesn’t need any. It’s interesting to know that Zac’s look in the 80s is inspired by Sex Pistols’ singer Sid Vicious, and his brother’s Raymond’s look is somehow inspired by Jim Morrison’s one and… his lifestyle too… for better, but especially for worst.
As I mentioned before, C.R.A.Z.Y. screenplay is the result of many years of work and the result is this breathtaking product that is given to us. The story is, of course, developed on 21 years (with times ellipse) and never a faux-pas is committed. The film, yes, contains a dramatic tone, but you’ll also find many comedic elements. It’s that variety of styles that makes it the type of movie everybody loves. Surely, Zac is at the center of the story, but Vallée and Boulay were brilliant enough to give a complete background and to the secondary characters. Of Zac’s brothers, Raymond probably is the one we know the most about and his presence has an important influence on the course of the story.
The film also contains some lines that define perfectly its thematic and the relation between the characters, but also between the characters and the society they live in. The best dialogue probably being:
Zachary Beaulieu: I want to be like everyone else.
Madame Chose: Thank God, you never will.
As Ingrid Bergman once said, “Be yourself, the world worship the original.”
C.R.A.Z.Y. was mostly filmed in Montreal and its area, but it’s a film that also makes us travel as Zac’s goes to Jerusalem, which has always been one of his mother’s most cherished dreams. However, for security reasons, the scenes had to be shot in Morroco. This part of the film is quite short but is an important transition in Zac’s life. It allows us to see some beautiful desertic spaces and cities.
But the film also makes us travel in the Quebec of the 20th century with yes, the music, the way of life, but also the costumes that can make people of this generation say: “Oh, I remember when I used dressed like that!”
Finally, The film also has to be praised for its effective editing. I always thought the transition between some of the scenes was brilliantly made, as well as the choice of camera shots. There is an appreciated continuity and a visual dynamism that keeps us at the edge of our seats. And the whole thing is beautifully shaped with a top-notch cinematography.
C.R.A.Z.Y. was THE film of the year here in Quebec in 2005. It won no less than 14 Jutra Awards, plus two special awards for the same ceremony. I sort of feel bad for the other films that were nominated that year haha. But what can I say? Sometimes, you just can’t surpass supreme quality!
There aren’t enough words to express the excellency of C.R.A.Z.Y., but I hope this review convinced you to see it as soon as possible if you haven’t. Meanwhile, take a look at the entertaining trailer. Not the best visual quality, but there are English subtitles!
I wrote this article for the always fun O Canada Blogathon hosted by the ever-enthusiastic Ruth from Silver Screenings and Kristina from Speakeasy. I want to thank both ladies for honouring my native country via this great event!
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