'C.R.A.Z.Y.' a powerful tale

-- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

When discussing C.R.A.Z.Y. -- the out-of-the-blue Quebec hit -- it's worth beginning with the feverish "Midnight Mass" fantasy scene everybody talks about.

Zac, the sexually confused, "Christmas baby" attends holiday Midnight Mass on his birthday as he has all his life. Suddenly the choir breaks into "whoo whoos" as the Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil erupts on the soundtrack.

Surrounded by relatives and parishioners who suddenly look at him with joy and revelation, he rises into the air, ascending like Jesus himself.

The scene, which director Jean-Marc Vallee describes as his "delirium," manages to tie together a number of the movie's themes -- from the family belief that Zac (Marc-Andre Grondin) is a "special" child blessed by God with healing powers, to his already overpowering desire to escape from the hell that is his family.

What's strange is that a movie that is so prone to flights of wild fancy also seems so real. The Beaulieus, the family of five boys led by a colourfully macho father with a love for Patsy Cline and Charles Aznavour, are the French-speaking family next door, with all the angst and turmoil that comes with not-so-unusual dysfunction.

It's an achingly emotional and funny portrait, that starts with Zac's birth in the early '60s to a family whose wood-paneled basement is the social centre for a hard-smoking and hard-drinking extended family, who grow and acquire warts in front of our eyes.

Of the five brothers, only Zac and the biker/drug-addict Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant) are sharply-drawn. The movie is a "love-story" of sorts between Zac and his father Gervais (Michel Cote), whose immense love for his son can't get past the disappointment over his sexuality. The always-problematic Raymond is the random element, alternately pushing and pulling them apart and together.

Zac's journey is engrossing in and of itself -- from glam-rock Bowie fan to '80s punk, with bouts of self-destruction and a long, futile attempt to be "straight." (The movie is rife with classic rock tunes). But it's the lifelong, ultimately redemptive dance between Zac and Gervais that is C.R.A.Z.Y.'s heart.

Inasmuch as cinematographic tricks can grease the emotional wheels, Vallee brings all guns to bear. Closeups, wonky angles, slo-mo, it's all there -- most noticeably in the endless scenes of smoking. The camera zooms adoringly in on the burning cigarette ends, and fairly caresses trails of smoke as they waft through the air.

It's just one more example of the director's total commitment to the story and the world in which it takes place.

(This film is rated 14-A)


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