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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Canadian Film Review: Leolo (1992)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jean-Claude Lauzon
Starring: Maxime Collin

I'm not entirely sure where to begin with Jean-Claude Lauzon's Leolo. It is a funny, grotesque, skillfully made film that left me feeling deeply unsettled. I don't know that I'll ever be able to get some of its images out of my brain, which I suppose is a measure of just how effective it is. Roger Ebert has named it in his Great Movies list and TIME included it in its list of the 100 greatest films of all time. I think it's a good movie, but I'll probably have to see it a couple more times before I really warm up to it.

The story centers on 12-year-old Leo Lauzon (Maxime Collin), an aspiring writer whose active fantasy life means that absolutely anything is possible within the context of the film. First, he believes that he is not truly a Quebequois Lauzon but an Italian whose real father impregnated his mother by way of a tomato imported from Italy. Because he believes this, he insists that everyone call him Leolo, though no one ever does. He comes from a large family whose members cycle in and out of the local madhouse, and he is in love (or lust) with a neighbor whose relationship with his grandfather inspires in him an ingenious attempt at murder (in fairness, his grandfather did try to kill him first).

Lauzon treats us to many episodes in the life of Leolo, some funny, some horrifying (some funny and then horrifying). The most moving, I think, is the story of Leolo's older brother Fernand (Yves Montmarquette). Bullied as an adolescent, Fernand is inspired to bulk up so that no one will ever push him around again. He becomes a mountain of a man and, for the most part, people seem content to leave him be but when he comes face-to-face with his former tormentor again, he discovers that simply having muscles isn't enough. His humiliation is tragedy on a small scale, but it is tragedy nevertheless and it allows reality to come crashing through Leolo's elaborately constructed fantasy.

A film like Leolo, which is about a child but is not for children, lives and dies by the strength of its lead. In order to attain the profound ambitions of the screenplay, the performance has to be able to reach depths that are beyond the average child actor. Maxime Collin is up to the task and effectively projects that sense that he's much older and wiser than he appears. Even in its lighter moments there is a darkness to the film which would make a precocious performance seem entirely out of place. Under Lauzon's guidance Collin doesn't "play up" in the role but instead plays it in a very straight forward and subtle way.

Leolo is a totally fascinating film filled with images of great beauty as well as absolute horror. Like I said before, objectively I can recognize the brilliance of the film but I don't know that I really "liked" it. I think that I'll definitely have to see it again before I really feel it's impact beyond it's more startling qualities.

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