Dir: Jean-Marc Vallee.Can. 2005. 127mins.
Recently selected asCanada's submission for the best foreign language Oscar, the family saga C.R.A.Z.Y.emerges as both the quintessence of contemporary cinema from Quebec and a talethat seamlessly taps into a universal zeitgeist.
The travails, sexualawakening and socio-political turmoil of the 1970s, as seen through the eyes ofthe fourth son of a working-class Montreal family, provides a vivid andexhilarating odyssey that's both humorous and poignant.
Festival exposure at bothVenice and Toronto has already resulted in Afavourable response and briskinternational sales, and C.R.A.Z.Y.'s artistry and spirit bode well forworldwide commercial acceptance in specialised release (with strong crossoverpotential in Francophone territories) following ITS record-breaking business athome.
Told in a novelistic stylecommon to Quebecois movies, the story unfolds during three distinct periodsspanning nearly 20 years. The fitful narrator is Zachary Beaulieu, one of fivesons in a devoutly Catholic family under the iron fist of his constructionworker father Gervais (Cote).
Zac enters the world onChristmas Day 1960 and in the opening section is a precocious seven-year-old(director's son Emile) struggling to hold his own against brothers seeminglybrighter or more athletic than himself.
When the film transitions to1975, Zac (now played by Grondin) is a teenager caught up in Bruce Lee movies,glam rock music and an ambivalence about his sexual orientation that threatensto drive a wedge between himself and most evidently his father.
The final section in 1980finally brings him out of the closet and takes him on a quest forself-knowledge that culminates in some surprising and edifying conclusions.
The bare bones synopsisaptly conveys the breadth of the enterprise without amply expressing either thedepth it plumbs or its myriad variegated qualities. It is a film thatunquestionably darkens in mood as it proceeds, while retaining a humanity thateschews a polemical stance or burdensome melodrama.
Director and co-writerJean-Marc Vallee - whose best known previous film was the political thriller ListeNoire - set an ambitious course for himself here, and while changingattitudes about sexuality become central to the story, equally important arethe role of family and religion on the culture and characters.
There is genuine hilaritywhen Zac's mother convinces the boy that he has the power to heal and he beginsto imagine both miracles and the ability to levitate. No less potent are thechilling encounters between father and son in which an unbending obeisance todogma appears hellbent on eliminating any prospect for reconciliation.
C.R.A.Z.Y. (an acronym of the initials of the Beaulieu brothers)also melds Quebec magic realism and kitchen sink drama as well as acting like adeft rumination on separatist French culture that defies the English influencesthat surround and seep across its borders.
Culturally there is no ironyto Gervais' comparable passion for Aznavour and Patsy Cline or Zac's equalembrace of Charlabois and David Bowie. Music plays a vital component in thefilm's tone and energy, as does an extraordinary acting ensemble that includesa career highlight performance from industry veteran Cote.
There's a precarious qualityto the material that threatens to topple into the trite and mundane at anygiven moment. One can only conclude that the film-maker's slavish attention todetail - whether it's the nuanceddepiction of the tiniest role or the precise visual evocation of each era itportrays - elevates the piece from stereotype into a singular life tale rich incontradictions and effortless in its ability to tap into the full gamut ofhuman emotions.