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"léolo" (1992) - jean-claude lauzon
posted on 2-Mar-2002 by anton

I have stepped into local art house movie theatre not knowing anything about this film except for its French-Canadian origin and its obscurity. jean-claude lauzon shot only one more film previous to this before his death in the plane crash few years ago.

this is an incredible story of a 12-year old boy (leo) growing up in a grotesquely dysfunctional working class family continuously going in and out of a madhouse, spoiled by the genes of their grandfather (that tried to kill leo and subsequently was placed into an institution).

little leo finds escape in the world of writing and dreams, equipped by a small notebook where he scribbles day and night, and a single paperback in the house, brought in by a stranger calling himself "word tamer". every page leo writes, he throws away, not knowing that word tamer would find it later, become the only connoisseur and in a sense an outside justification of leo's creativity.

little leo hates his dad so much (the man that religiously believes in "a shit a day keeps a doctor away" principle, resulting in a few morbidly funny and utterly disturbing scenes), that he alters the story of his childbirth, pretending that his mother was impregnated by a tomato "polluted" by an Italian farmer, and therefore the curse of his family won't touch leo, also giving him the right to call himself "leolo lozone" (pronounced with wonderful Sicilian accent).

the movie cuts back and forth between reality and fiction, with lush visuals, balancing between beautifully poetic (with narrative quotes and visuals shaped so perfectly, that one wants to pause the film and just enjoy them one more time), highly allegoric images and utterly disturbing and awkward moments. the director does not stop half-way, does not limit himself to accepted conventions - this contrast of beauty and guttural, twisted humor, that would make people laugh and squirm in their seats with uneasiness, is what makes it so personal, so appealing. images of leolo trying to hang his grandfather (blaming him for everything wrong in the family) - naked old man clasping at the rope, a scene shot and acted with horribly twisted humor; all the scenes with little kid masturbating and obsessively trying to find the release for his erotic fantasies; leolo's circle of friends, fucking anything that moves (literally).

it was quite shocking to see it all on screen, but I did not feel uneasy, painfully embarrassed (like I was watching "american pie 2"). it is something that still puzzles me - maybe it is the balance of grotesque and beautiful, a completeness of this world consisting of surreal perfection and brutal everyday life. maybe it is the way it was shot, a certain "surreal realism", elevating it above exploitative and empty comedy of any "toilet humor" counterparts. in this respect it reminded me of little oskar from "tin drum" (but shot infinitely more luxuriously), locked in his body of a 4-year old, driven by his twisted imagination and desires. speaking of flashbacks and parallels, I could not avoid remembering proust with his complex and imaginative imagery, or fellini with his sense of humor and realism.

altogether this is a beautifully shot, highly provocative, incredibly funny, poetically sad and romantic picture with no happy ending, no resolution, no moralizing. it fascinates me with all the themes about the nature of creativity, significance of imagination and dreams. surreal at times, reminding me of "city of lost children", it is hilarious and viciously realistic a few moments later. too bad it is destined to remain an art house movie, on the other hand, only its crowd can appreciate it fully.

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