Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Leolo (1992): French-Canadian-Italian

You start this movie listening to an old man's voice-over in French, talking about his childhood in tenement housing in 1950's/1960's Quebec, and the stupid, shit-obsessed father he was lumbered with. The noises and music which accompany it are like something out of an eerie sci-fi movie and you know that, however mundane the setting, this is going to be anything but a normal narrative.

The young French-Canadian boy in question is called Leo but fancies himself to be an Italian peasant called Leolo instead. Sometimes when he opens the door to his bedroom he steps out into beautiful Italian countryside. At the start his demented grandfather tries to kill him. Much later in the movie the little boy tries to repay the favour by lowering a noose onto the old man's head while he's in the bath: it's one of the stand-out scenes in the movie. The constant refrain of the film, when confronted with the eccentricities and mental illnesses of his relatives, is the boy's 'I'm not, because I dream'- i.e. I'm not mad.

The narration throughout is spoken by what is obviously an elegant, sophisticated gentleman, a dreamer who wants the finer things in life. Yet he sometimes remembers with verve his urges to put a firecracker up his father's ass. The film is a kind of hymn to the simultaneous ethereal beauty and bawdy earthiness of the French language. Leolo's poetic descriptions of the world around him mix nicely with his precocious contempt for the values of its inhabitants. And music is used with great invention in the film. At one point, over the sound of the Rolling Stones 'You Can't Always get What You Want', the main character describes with venom the desperate actions of another local boy who's intent on blotting out thoughts of the mother he hates. Other highpoints on the soundtrack include Tom Waits songs, world music and angelic choirs.

The film is meandering and episodic so one's own interest depends on how much the accumulated episodes invoke one's empathy, how much one buys into the story of this awkward, overweight, unattractive, cowardly, kooky family. I for one did buy into it. This is a real treasure chest of a movie, directed by Jean Claude Lauzon and packed with impressionistic sights and sounds you won't see anywhere else.

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