Friday, 16 June 2006

C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)

Dad may be crazy about Patsy Kline, but Ziggy Stardust has my heart

There’s something creepy about Zachary Beaulieu. The child fidgets and looks anguished during the Christmas midnight service, and his hand keeps touching the back of his head, where there’s a certain birthmark on his scalp. There’s obviously something annoying him to the extent that he practically gives the camera the evil eye. Zac’s born on Christmas Day, 1960, and you begin to wonder if you’re watching the remake of The Omen. Hastily, you check if you’ve stepped into the wrong cinema hall.

Relax, you’re watching C.R.A.Z.Y., one of the best films from Canada this decade. It’s about the pain and confusion of growing up, the joy and madness of family life, the love-hate relationship between siblings, between parents and their children. It’s about being special – Quebecois, Roman Catholic, and having the best and coolest father in the world. The film is suffused with touches of Quebecois old wives’ tales and beliefs and an honest, reverent religiosity that makes it much more than Growing Up meets The Wonder Years meets The 70s Show. In other words, it’s a film on universal themes, yet unique to its corner of the world.

Like every child, young Zac hero worships his macho father Gervais, who fired a machine gun in WW2, wears aviator shades, and as befitting an audiophile, has the complete collection of vinyl records from Patsy Cline, Charles Aznavour and other great classic singers. Thanks to his unique birthmark and birth date, the family believes Zac is gifted with a talent for healing wounds. Gervais takes his favourite son on secret car trips to get French fries, buys him the biggest Christmas/birthday presents of the siblings, and for a while, the pair are the best buddies in the world.

But children do grow up, and they eventually do something to disappoint their parents’ hopes in them. In Zac’s case, it is his “softness” and inability to be masculine enough for his father. Will the love between father and son be strong enough to bring them together again? Does Zac love his father enough to do everything possible to regain his favour, and not end up as a “fairy”? Does Gervais love his son enough to accept that all his sons are different from one another, to accept Zac as much as he accepts the drugged out second son Raymond as his own? Can mum Doris, who shares a special bond with her son, convince her husband to accept Zac’s uniqueness?

Families, I was once told by a cynic, are the only institutions in civilised society where people are legally allowed to be mean or even violent to one another. This film proposes that families are both a source of joy and pain – and that you can never extricate one from the other. Gervais may be a strict disciplinarian, but he’s still charismatic, charming and has a sense of cool. Raymond may be Zac’s greatest tormentor and nemesis, but it’s impossible for anyone to maintain their ill feelings for their most hated sibling for long. This film, then, is a love letter to families everywhere, whether they rock or suck, and precisely because they rock and suck at the same time.

Script-wise, the film is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming, terrifying and witty. It’s extremely well-written and so tight-knit that I couldn’t find any unnecessary scenes. The movie is filled with gorgeous music from the 1950s to the 1980s, from Patsy Cline to David Bowie, from Elvis Presley to The Rolling Stones. Like guardian angels, the film soundtrack watch over the growth of the five Beaulieu brothers and their parents through a most difficult transition in Quebecois society, the misnamed Quiet Revolution.

Visually, the composition of the film is top notch. The sunlight falls on faces just so, the camera closes up and dances a slow mambo with the characters, seque. Director Jean-Marc Vallee, armed with a delirious sensibility, provides us with several wickedly funny and imaginative scenes that despite being way off-the-wall, actually work emotionally (One of them is the infamous melding of Sympathy for the Devil and the Christmas mass).

C.R.A.Z.Y. is a film that you might just want to watch more than once, if just to figure out how on earth its creators managed to produce a masterpiece from a rather mainstream subject.

First published at incinemas on 15 June 2006

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