The Last of the Crazy People is the second feature film from French writer/director Laurent Achard, adapted from Timothy Findley’s 1967 novel of the same name. Not dissimilar from the films of Michael Haneke, it is a work of formal sophistication and psychological complexity.
The film opens in a dark room, on a softly illumined eye peeking outside through a chink in a door. We soon learn that this eye belongs to Martin, the somber, 10-year-old boy who we follow throughout the film. Martin lives on a farm with his family and their maid. His mother, Nadí¨ge, seems to be psychotic; she refuses to leave her bedroom and is prone to fits of screaming. His brother, Didier, is a would-be writer/poet, tormented by self-doubt and by his impossible relationship with a man who is engaged to be married. The other characters act as provocateurs and/or peacekeepers to the intense atmosphere of the household, while the action centres more and more on the suffering of Nadí¨ge and Didier, and on its effects on Martin.
Fear and doubt are at the heart of The Last of the Crazy People, permeating form and content in equal measure. Achard depicts a world that is uncertain, violent and, worst of all, meaningless, the horror of which affects all the characters, but chiefly Nadí¨ge. Lingering on her remote, glaring eyes, the film asks: Is Nadí¨ge mad? Or just much more sensitive than the average human being? Perhaps Nadí¨ge is the only sane one, the only one who is really awake, and it is all the ‘normal’ people who surround her, and who give no thought to the horror of reality, who are actually mad?
Formally the film plays a game of push and pull with its audience, encouraging both our disorientation and our sympathy for the characters. In turns, we are tempted to think that the film unfolds from Martin’s innocent perspective, from a detached, realist perspective, and from a fantastical, hyperreal perspective. It is never certain whether the point of view is subjective or objective, reality or illusion, schizoid hallucination or prophetic vision. We search for a single fixed truth, which ultimately doesn’t seem to exist. Like the characters we are lost between the equally undesirable poles of illusion and nothingness.
There is no denying the bleakness of the film, but this is not to criticise. The Last of the Crazy People is a work of honesty, not miserabilism. One would perhaps see a glimmer of hope in Didier and his poetry, were it not for the weight of the prevailing order, and of fate, which sit so heavily on his shoulders. The world doesn’t want a poet. Perhaps it did once, as Didier’s piles of old books suggest, but not anymore. The world now seems to say, ‘you’re either normal or mad; you’re either with us, or you’re on your own’. Didier, not quite mad perhaps, but very much alone, broods unhappily towards a resolution. When he finally makes his decision at the end of the film the consequences are nothing short of apocalyptic.
The Last of the Crazy People is an excellent film. It is by no means easy viewing, but as a rare piece of serious cinema, it is essential.