LEOLO (Jean-Claude Lauzon, 1992)

Québec-born writer-director Jean-Claude Lauzon, who piloted himself and his girlfriend to a fatal airplane crash five years later, proved he also had a blighted childhood in his autobiographical Léolo, about the intercession of dreams and fantasies that helps the film’s pre-teen protagonist, Léo, navigate life in a mentally distressed family in a Montréal slum out of Dickens—but in the second half of the twentieth century.
     Derived from Léo’s copious boyhood journals, our guide is a voiceover so depressed as to suggest someone who is sleepwalking through memory. Like other elements of Lauzon’s film, it is painfully affected and enormously unconvincing.
     To “fight isolation and protect [him] from the black hole of his family”—this apparently is Léo’s own delayed interpretation—Léo is told to dream. He begins his “dreaming” with the matter of his own origin. His mother, we see, was impregnated by a “contaminated” Sicilian tomato that had been shipped to the U.S.—this, an expression of the boy’s contempt for his father. The woman is large, and her backward fall into a vat of outdoor market tomatoes is, like many of the film’s images, disgusting. Its correlation to Léo’s groping understanding of sexuality is thematically typical of the film’s focus. Léolo is the boy’s made-up Italian name.
     Léo also hates his grandfather, whose murder he ineffectually plots and executes with chivalric dreams of rescuing the girl—Léo assumes her purity—to whom Grandfather’s attentions are sexually driven. There are echoes here of both Don Quixote and Preston Sturges’s Unfaithfully Yours (1948)! Note also that Grandfather has attempted to kill Léo, but in neither’s case is the reality of the attempt certain. At least according to Léo’s journals, Grandfather is in the habit of having nubile young things cut his toenails with their teeth.

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