Leolo is an original and imaginative Canadian film, reminding of a time when watching movies carried the possibility of witnessing things previously un-encountered. I am saddened to think that director Jean-Claude Lauzon was tragically taken from us after only 2 feature films in 1997. We can only imagine what other aspects of life he would have blown open.
- Director: Jean-Claude Lauzon
- Writer: Jean-Claude Lauzon
- Cast: Gilbert Sicotte, Maxime Collin, Ginette Reno, Julien Guimar
A coming-of-age story about a young boy, Leolo (Collin), who chooses to cope with his dysfunctional family by escaping into his own fantasy world. To make sense of it all, Leolo consistently locks himself in the bathroom to contemplate the many different “realities” he imagines for himself. Stuck in a continuous struggle to grapple with his domestic life and his fate as a member of his family, Leolo’s efforts to escape raise questions about whether he can ever truly escape himself.
Leolo is best to dissect in its various elements, since attempting to assess the film as a whole can leave us somewhat speechless. On a visual level, director Lauzon demonstrates an effective ability to convey a frustrated and lonely journey into adolescence. Even when this journey feels sick and twisted, it’s honest. With intriguing tracking shots, highly nuanced environments, and various characters with distinctly odd behaviors, Leolo is enthralling. I’m quite sure I’ve never entered a world like the world of Leolo, with its rare blend of fantasy and dark reality. At times, we’re exposed to dreamlike moments where Leolo finds himself enchanted by a beautiful voice and the alluring image of his first crush, Bianca. Which is contrasted with an unflinching view of a boy hitting puberty, as Leolo is fixated on the newly discovered pleasures of his sexual being.
Maxime Collin plays Leolo with the perfect amount of passivity, as he is mainly an observer at first, reaching various realizations about his family throughout the first and seconds acts of the film. As he becomes increasingly aware of his grandfather’s (Julien Guimar) negative influence on his family, his conviction to punish him is convincing after witnessing Leolo’s frustrations. While the quirkiness of the family is unquestionable, the voice-over narration does a great job of providing perspective and poetic reflections. The only thing that keeps this film from being “great” is the constant repeating of the phrase, “Because I dream, I am not”. The narration often comes from older characters, and they come too often. We constantly see an elderly man in a dark room, inexplicably filled with candles, reading the pages that Leolo wrote as a kid. Less would have been more. Though not perfect, Leolo comes very close to greatness.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
I may not share the sentiment that Leolo is a great film, but no one can deny it’s originality. Beyond being refreshingly shocking at times — even when few things seem capable of shocking us anymore — director Lauzon opens doors and uncovers emotions that feel as though they’ve never been explored. As Mr. Ebert’s review mentions, Leolo cannot be assigned a category or be described in terms of other films. I suspect that anyone watching it will experience the same sense of feeling alive, as it manages to say and show what so many other films tackling similar subject matter would never dare. As for Leolo as a character, I appreciate Ebert’s remark that Leolo’s character “is not a cute Hollywood child, or a Home Alone brat — a little plastic monster — but instead, a fully formed, difficult, complicated individual.” This type of daring storytelling reminds us that even as kids, we all still hold a level of personhood that films rarely capture or explore. Leolo is a fantastic experience, but not in way that you would ever predict.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like Leolo? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Badlands
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Leolo this week, he now has 308 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.