The Last Of The Crazy People Review
With its French countryside setting and troubling activities taking place on a farming estate with evident tension and divisions between the owners and their North African servants, Laurent Achard’s 2006 film The Last of the Crazy People (Le dernier des fous) has inevitably been compared to Michael Haneke’s Hidden, made the previous year. Seen through the eyes of a young 10 year-old boy growing up in this unstable environment however, Achard tries to take in a wider look at prejudice and corruption, as well as social divisions, touching on religion and sexuality in a manner that is closer in theme to Buñuel’s El or Viridiana.
There are a lot of crazy, mixed-up relationships in Martin’s family and it’s not insignificant that the first view we have of the boy is of him in a dark cellar, looking out on the playground on the last day of school in the summer before he starts middle-school. Martin is in the dark about a lot of things that are going on in his family, whose activities he observes with the seemingly cool eye of a dispassionate observer – his semi-catatonic mother confined to her room, his father’s role as the head of the family undermined by his failure as a husband and a businessman, the running of the estate being taken over by his grandmother Rose (and I may be reading too much into this, but there may even be a suggestion of an incestuous or at least unnatural relationship here that could be at the root of the problems). Martin’s writer brother Didier meanwhile is in a state since his secret lover, a boy from a rich neighbouring farm estate, is going to be married.
Despite appearances, Martin however is clearly not unaffected by what he sees around him. Lacking a normal family life and guidance, he naturally turns to the family’s North African maidservant Malika, looking for love and direction, but the differences in class and religious observance that he witnesses, along with their social status, make it difficult for him to fit in. Clearly not even fitting in with children of his own age, and at a difficult age himself, he also fails to read the situation of a young adolescent girl be befriends. Added to all this confusion going on in Martin’s life, there is a strong sense of death, decay and corruption evident throughout, which adds a further level of complexity to the situation – a dead weasel injured by the cat that Martin’s brother encourages him to finish off with an axe, vicious crows hopping around the kill, his brother playing dead at the dinner table, the feared drowning of his young friend, not to mention the discovery of a gun, an item that the laws of drama, not to mention its prominent placing on the cover of the DVD, suggest will play an important part in what is to follow.
If indeed at times a little too close in visual references to Caché, director Laurent Achard orchestrates all these elements extremely well into a situation rife with suggestion and tension, one that is effectively downplayed by the impassive presence of the young Julien Cochelin, who captures the innocence of the young boy caught up in a situation that cannot but corrupt. Such is the extent of all this horror that’s the film’s conclusion cannot be anything but highly charged, and Archard takes this to its logical almost Ibsen-like dramatic finale.
The Last of the Crazy People (Le dernier des fous) is released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is in PAL format, and although the cover indicates Region 2 encoding, the disc is actually region-free.
Taking place mostly indoors, in darkened rooms with heavy shadows and strong contrasts with that rather French-like blue tint to the colouring, The Last of the Crazy People is undoubtedly a difficult film to encode for Standard Definition, but the transfer copes reasonably well. Shadows are indeed a little bit murky and flat, but there is sufficient clarity and definition even in these scenes. Otherwise there’s little else wrong with the anamorphic, 1.85:1 progressive transfer. The image is clear and detailed, tending slightly to a softer presentation, with no marks or evident digital artefacts, flowing smoothly with good stability.
Two audio tracks present the original soundtrack as Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, either of which will prove effective, the sound being very much centre focussed. Dialogue is strong and clear and with no music score, not even on the closing titles, the slightest of noises and ambient sounds also come across clearly.
English subtitles are provided and are optional in a clear white font.
The are no extras related to the film on the disc, but a wide selection of trailers for recent DVD and theatrical releases by Peccadillo. Normally this wouldn’t count for much, but there are some intriguing lesser-known films in their collection and this is a good opportunity to sample them.
There’s a grim inevitability to how events will play out in The Last of the Crazy People that is evident from the first frame and is evident throughout written on the face of the marvellous young protagonist, Martin. Laurent Achard sustains the intensity of the broken family situation well, bringing in other social aspects relevant to France (the setting of the original source novel by Timothy Findley is Canadian) and seeing the film through to its dramatic conclusion. Peccadillo’s presentation of this intriguing film is just fine.