Advertisement

MOVIE REVIEW : 'Leolo': In This Boy's Life, Truth Lies in a Dream

April 28, 1993|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

Nothing describes "Leolo," nothing does it justice. It's a film you feel more than analyze, a movie that makes emotional rather than literal sense. And though it is as intoxicated with language as it is with images, it comes so strongly from memory and the subconscious that it resists tidy summation. Without boundaries, a fever dream of imagination, poetry and love, it simply must be seen.

Everything about "Leolo" (at the Sunset 5 and Goldwyn Pavilion) turns out to be the opposite of what you might expect. Its territory, that of the coming of age of a sensitive, artistic boy in an unforgiving environment, is chronically overused and prone to teary sentimentality. But "Leolo's" writer-director Jean-Claude Lauzon has turned his film into an assault, filling it with pitiless, profane images and offensive situations that can't help but make you squirm.

But think of "Leolo" (Times-rated Mature for intense emotional content) as a barbaric attack on delicate sensibilities and you will be wrong once again. For French-Canadian Lauzon, who says this film is in large part based on his own growing up, has marvelously suffused the madness and the squalid desperation with the all-accepting warmth of remembered experience. By uniting formidable technical skill with intensely held, intuitive feelings, Lauzon reaches a pitch of emotional fervor that induces us to experience the rages, fears, hopes and pleasures of childhood all over again.

"Leolo" was initially subtitled "because I dream" and that phrase defines its theme as well as anything. Its 12-year-old protagonist (Maxime Collin), growing up in the mundane decay of Montreal's tough Mile End neighborhood, says early on "people who trust only their own truth call me Leo Lozeau. Because I dream, I am not."

Instead, Leo imagines he is really Leolo Lozone, a miniature Italian who ends up born in Montreal after his mother, in an especially boggling sequence, makes accidental contact with a sperm-laden Sicilian tomato. Later, sandwiched between two sisters who move in and out of mental hospitals, an obsessive bodybuilder of an older brother and a brutish, packhorse father who is intensely involved in the regular bowel movements of his offspring, it is no wonder that Leolo dreams. And his dreams focus on the power of writing, on passionately believing "there was a secret in words strung together."

Getting hold of the house's sole book, Leolo ritualistically dons hat and mittens to read it late at night by the chilly light of the refrigerator. And he writes. Continually, compulsively, for no practical reason, not even bothering to save the pages, he commits to paper his heightened, poetic reflections, overflowing with emotion and insight. Only the mysterious Word Tamer, an almost mythological literary scavenger who Lauzon created as a tribute to the real-life teacher who rescued him, appreciates what the boy is writing but is powerless to help him change his life.

*

As read by a cultivated adult voice (and exceptionally well subtitled), Leolo's writings set an assured, polished verbal tone that counterpoints the rawness of the sometime savagery in which he lives. For this film is definitely not decorous, well-behaved and suitable for children. It circles again and again, sometimes elegiacally, sometimes with taunting brutality, sometimes with unexpected humor, around the same key events and personages in a small boy's life.

There is Leolo's bulked-up older brother, Ferdinand, who "fear had given a reason for living," turning him into a bodybuilder after a humiliating encounter with a cocky local bully. His sister, Queen Rita, curator of an insect collection, is lulled into tranquillity by the sound of dozens of wings. His mother, enormous in a series of gargantuan house dresses, is the only sane person in the family with "the strength of a frigate plowing through troubled waters." And, finally, there is the boy's muddled grandfather (veteran French actor Julien Guiomar), the cause of the family's insanity as well as Leolo's rival for the smiles and favors of their lovely Sicilian neighbor Bianca (Giuditta Del Vecchio), Leolo's Italian fantasy.

Because Lauzon remembers this story so exactly, because the emotions are as vivid for him as if it all just happened, he has been able to effectively use non-professional actors in several key roles. Surprisingly strong for their lack of experience are Yves Montmarquette, one of Montreal's top bodybuilders, as Ferdinand, and Pierre Bourgault, a political journalist and force for Quebec independence, as the Word Tamer. And Ginette Reno, in real life the queen of Quebec's pop singers, who embraces the role of Leolo's mother with impressive results.

*

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|