By Metin Alsanjak

An exclusive interview with director Jean-Marc Vallée

C.R.A.Z.Y. has already been a huge hit with its home audience in Québec, breaking records and selling more copies on DVDs than the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. The French-Canadian film is a gay-themed coming of age story, tracing three decades in the life of Zac, born on Christmas day 1960. All the major events in Zac's life always come back to his sexuality and the problems this creates for his relationship with his father. The film's ingenious way of linking characters with their favourite music – the father to Patsy Cline, Zac to Pink Floyd and Ziggy Stardust – as well as careful attention to period details, great performances, and a painfully full-on depiction of dysfunctional family life makes for a sharp, funny and original memoir of growing up in Montreal. The French-language film is set to be a global success after being sold to 50 countries worldwide.

crazy-jean-marc-vallee-1.jpgC.R.A.Z.Y., 2005

Metin Alsanjak: What has the reaction been like to the film outside of Québec and Canada?

Jean-Marc Vallée: It’s been really good ever since we first screened it. I’ve just got back from festivals in Athens and Istanbul. It’s strange really, it’s been a success with critics and audiences everywhere.

MA: Were you expecting to have some problems?

JMV: Yes, particularly in Morocco. They don’t even use the word homosexuality there – it’s seen more like disease. The irony is that we couldn’t shoot the scenes in Jerusalem in Israel as the insurance company wouldn’t cover it, so we found a small town in Morocco to stand in for Jerusalem, but there was no bar there and no locals willing to play homosexuals. We had to create a bar and fill it with tourists with tight fitting jeans and T-shirts.

MA: There are quite a few gay-themed genre films being released at the moment – such as the French film Cockles and Muscles, and of course Brokeback Mountain.

crazy-jean-marc-vallee-default.jpgMarc-André Grondin as Zachary Beaulieu

JMV: For me this was a story about the love between a father and son. I didn’t want it to be just seen as a gay film. It’s about a boy refusing to accept that he’s different, but it is interesting, because Ang Lee is not gay, and I am not gay – the homosexual theme comes from Francois, and his memoir. I was just mixing two worlds to create my story. I think it’s largely a matter of coincidence that non-gay directors are making films about gay issues at the moment. Maybe there is a maturity in society at the moment, though it is still taboo in some countries, but in a place like Canada now it’s very accepted. Being a gay adult today is much easier, but I learned from making the film that being a gay teenager is as hard as it was in the 70s. I had feedback from the gay community about the film, and they were saying how kids around 14-15 find it incredibly hard. The number of suicides at that specific age is very high.

MA: How do see C.R.A.Z.Y. in relation to your other work?

JMV: I was frustrated with my films in the past. I’d made three films, and I’d go to the cinema and come out thinking, ‘Why don’t I make more films like that?’ I was having some kind of mid-life crisis with my career and who I was. No one was sending me scripts that I wanted to make into films that I wanted to watch. But if it wasn’t for making those films then I wouldn’t be frustrated and wouldn’t have made C.R.A.Z.Y.

crazy-jean-marc-vallee-3.jpgMichel Côté

MA: Which films were the ones that made you think – ‘I want to make a film like that’?

JMV: Films by Scorsese, Hal Ashby, American Beauty and Billy Eliot. Actually Billy Eliot was very similar to my film. The boy is a bit different, wants to dance, family are into boxing, lots of older brother. Seeing that really made me think that I’d better hurry up and make my film. Also La Vita è bella and Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. And Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm.

MA: Was C.R.A.Z.Y. a difficult project to fund?

JMV: It took 10 years. I worked on it around my other jobs for 4 years, spent a year living on my credit cards and loans and then another 3 years working on it. When I tried to get producers to make the film people were scared, saying they thought it was too big for Québec and French, that it looked like an American film. It was hard to convince the established producers to come on board and produce with me. I wanted the money to be in my control, for the music budget especially.

MA: Why was having music, and in particular British music so important to you?

JMV: I wanted the right tracks to find the mood in the film. I listened to that music a lot when I was writing the script, and it’s music I grew up listening to. With music like that, Pink Floyd, the Stones and Bowie from the UK its International, it belongs to the planet. It was ninety per cent of the music my friends were listening to.

MA: How expensive was it to use those tracks?

JMV: I put my directors and co-producers fee into it – it was $600,000 Canadian dollars, about half a million Euros.

crazy-jean-marc-vallee-4.jpgYoung Zac with his brothers

MA: How do you see your work within Québec’s film industry and culture?

JMV: There’s something going on right now in Québec, there’s a special relationship we have with our audience. We’ve set records, we’re watching more of our own films than foreign ones. DVD sales of C.R.A.Z.Y. have been higher than Star Wars and Harry Potter. It is amazing for us. And there’s more and more diversity. Québec cinema used to more political, but we now we want to have fun and tell stories, use different genres. There was a horror film in Québec this year, and it worked. The language is another reason [people are watching Québec-made films]. The star system means that people want to see French-language TV stars at the cinema. We are almost blessed by the difference. English Canadian films are not being watched as much. They are watching more American films than Canadian. Over there Québec films are just considered as foreign language films from another country. They’re distributed in the same way as French, Spanish, French and Japanese films. Not bigger or better. Michel Côté [who plays the father character in C.R.A.Z.Y.] is a huge star in Québec, but if he walks around Toronto no one would recognise him. In Montreal everyone would be asking for his autograph. The opposite is also true with English Canadian stars. It’s the story of the two solitudes.

MA: Are there many people working across French and English Canadian media, or working with American media too?

JMV: Not a lot of people, but it’s building more and more...

MA: What are you planning to do next?

JMV: I’ve just signed up to a new agent in Los Angeles, and they’re sending me lots of scripts, but so far I haven’t seen anything I want to do. In 2006 my main project is to write a script based on a French novel. I have not acquired the rights yet and I am a bit superstitious, so I do not want to say what it is, just that it’s from the 80s and one of the oldest stories ever told, but done from a unique and new angle.