The notion of madness being hereditary receives a decidedly-chilly tone in Laurent Achard’s take on Timothy Findlay’s first novel, The Last of the Crazy People.
Seen through the daily-less-innocent eyes of 10-year-old Martin (Julien Cochelin carries much of the film and is quietly up to the task), his family’s secrets are systematically laid bare until there seems to be only one possible escape.
Much-older brother Didier (Pascal Cervo soars through the role with convincing unease with self and avocation; his middle-school, poetry-reading remembrance is particularly effective) struggles as an emerging writer and homosexual. Sadly, Raphaël (Thomas Laroppe)—the object of Didier’s affections—announces his wedding plans and seems surprised when his roll-in-the-hay (literally, they live on a farm in France) lover doesn’t take the news well.
The siblings’ mother (a blood-curdling, mostly off-camera screaming performance from Dominique Reymond as Nadège) is self-confined to her room, struggling with demons unknown and in the ever-present reminder that her husband Jean (Jean-Yves Chatelais) sleeps with another under the same roof.
Trying to keep the family peace is the servant, Malika (Fattouma Ousliha Bouamari is appropriately stoic and intervening as required), who teaches Martin how to pray towards Mecca, adding a welcome oasis of calm before the drama heats up.
To round out the plot, the family estate is near bankruptcy and about to be saved by Raphaël’s well-to-do dad. Adding a bit of unrequited romantic spice is Christine. Similar to Didier (but certainly unconsummated), Martin has a huge crush on Raphaël’s sister only to be spurned when a boy more her own age takes her for a walk in the woods …
Much of the film’s success is due to Achard’s (assisted by co-writer Nathalie Najem) decision to use dialogue sparingly and let the camera (Georges Diane and Philippe Van Leeuw have provided a magnificent array of shots from telling close-ups to a beautifully framed hand-holding sequence along a grassy horizon) do the talking. The insatiable curiosity and near-invisible size of the youngest cast member enables all manner of private moments to be spied upon, but nearly-always discreetly (Mother sleeping—a poignant exception to the rule). And so the mysteries of menstruation, man-to-man intercourse and pet cemeteries are all brought into play without the need for pages of chatter.
At one with the mood is the absence of music, allowing both the characters and audience to be alone with their own thoughts as the inevitably-dark consequences of bottled up passions and personal disappointments begin to take their deadly toll. Thank goodness it’s only fiction … JWR