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Filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee has always wanted to visit Jerusalem. "I'm fulfilling my mother's dream," he says. "She always wanted to come here and walk in the steps of Jesus. Now I'm here because of a film I love, so it's special for both of us."
Vallee is in Israel this week to promote his film C.R.A.Z.Y, which played in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as part of the French Film Festival. "The mother in the film is my mother. Her type of faith was very typical of the French-Canadian middle class in the 1960s."
That is, it's the type of faith that never wavers, and it clashes mightily with Zac, the film's main character. He is born on Christmas day in 1960 ("You're special," his mother says. "You have the same birthday as Jesus.") into a colorful Quebec family of three rather obnoxious brothers, an ever supportive mother, and a father whom he worships. But while his brothers wrestle and throw footballs around the yard, Zac loves to play dress up and wants a baby carriage for his birthday.
"The film is based on my friend Francois Boulay's life," explains Vallee. "He has this way of talking about his family and his brothers. I thought 'We have to make his life into a film.' Francois sent me a huge envelope full of random memories-not a script-just memories. We worked from there. Everything having to do with sexual orientation and his father was based on his life, and everything having to do with music and religion was based on mine."
Indeed, C.R.A.Z.Y. works on many levels - it is a coming of age story, a love story between a father and his son, and it also has a lot to say about sex, religion and self acceptance.
"Religion influenced and repressed us. We feared God," says Vallee of his strict Roman-Catholic childhood. His film is saturated with religious images- there is almost always a portrait of Jesus or a crucifix in the background. In one particularly powerful scene, six year old Zac (played by emile Vallee, the director's real life son) dresses up in his mother's clothes, cooing "Hello, pretty baby" at his newborn brother. He thinks he is alone, but suddenly his father appears in the doorway, a picture of Jesus looming behind him on the wall. Zac's face registers shock and fear; his father's disgust. It is immediately clear that Zac will find acceptance neither in his catholic faith, nor in his father.
"From that moment on," says Vallee, "the way his father looked at him changed. Zac spends the rest of his life wanting his father to look at him the way he used to."
As Zac grows up and feels increasingly alienated, he finds solace in music. "Music is a character in the film," says Vallee. "I spent lots of time trying to find the right tracks and the right lyrics. Music becomes Zac's religion."
In a very memorable scene, a teenage Zac (played by Marc Andre Grondin) fantasizes about the entire church congregation breaking into the Rolling Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil," while he floats gleefully and Christ-like above them. In another, he paints his face like David Bowie, stands in front of the mirror, and lip syncs a spirited rendition of "Space Oddity."
"Bowie sings 'Can you hear me Major Tom?'" says Vallee, "and Zac is asking 'Can you hear me God?' Music gives him wings to express himself, even if he can't accept who is he yet."
Patsy Cline's music also plays a prominent role in the film, and her song "Crazy" serves as its title. "I was looking for a record to represent relationships in the film. This macho father loves Patsy Cline and these broken heart songs that usually appeal more to women. This was a way of showing he's different too, even if he doesn't realize it," explains Vallee. "I chose the song 'Crazy' because of the lyrics 'I'm crazy for loving you.' Zac feels crazy for loving his father, his father feels crazy for loving his son."
Although Vallee became disillusioned with strict Catholicism in his teens, he says that he can't reject religion altogether. "For a long time, I didn't want to believe, but it was too strong. I still will stop sometimes, look up and say 'Show me the way!' It's like Zac. He didn't want to believe. He preferred to die than to be different, but he beats the crap out of his classmate as a way of saying to God 'listen to me!'" Vallee is referring to a particularly brutal scene where Zac beats up a classmate who he suspects is also gay. The sequence very effectively shows the consequences of self-hatred-instead of taking out his anger on those who are actually oppressing him, Zac lashes out at someone like him.
Marc Andre Grodin says that Vallee made it easy for him to play such a dynamic, painfully conflicted character. "It was a great script. Sometimes you read a script and you have no idea what the character is supposed to be feeling, but with this, it was so clear. Jean-Marc just knows how to get emotions in subtle ways, to not force feelings on the audience. That's why some people will cry during a scene and others will laugh. It's like life."
Vallee, who has written and directed highly acclaimed short films, and directed several feature length projects, feels that C.R.A.Z.Y has transformed his life in numerous ways. "I think this film asks, 'what are you going to do to change your life and be happy?' In my own life, I was making boring films. That's why I wrote C.R.A.Z.Y. I wanted to make a film I loved, to take action and do something fulfilling. To me, C.R.A.Z.Y. is like a prayer of hope."
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