“Parce que moi je rêve, je ne le suis pas.”
Vaguely translated, “since I dream, I am not that”. That phrase has become some kind of mantra for young Leo Lauzon (Maxime Collin), who prefers fantasy to the harsh reality. He lives in a poor neighborhood of Montreal with his family, a dysfunctional group of people close to insanity. His grandfather is a cold, hard man who ain’t really harmful but is certainly not very caring either. His father is an obese blue collar worker with an obsession for bowel movements. He believes that taking a dump every day is essential to good health, so he makes sure his kids do their duty, feeding them laxative if necessary. Leo’s mother (French Canadian chanteuse Ginette Reno) is very fat and maternal, but she’s not very understanding. And then there’s Leo near-retarded bodybuilder brother and his mentally challenged sisters. You can understand Leo’s need for escapism.
He convinced himself that his mother was actually impregnated by a Sicilian tomato filled with the sperm of his real father, making him an Italian. Hence, he insists on being called Leolo Lauzone, to his mother’s annoyance. Now experiencing puberty, Leolo is divided between his newly found taste for masturbation and his sublimated love for Bianca, the angelic Italian neighbor. The film doesn’t have a conventional plot. It’s more of a character study, as the movie gradually deconstructs its young character’s life, mixing childhood memories with dreams. The film is narrated by Leolo, or more precisely by an old man reading his journal. Writing helps exorcise Leolo’s overwhelming thoughts and urges, as he tries to beat his family’s curse and keep his head.
What you get is a very symbolic and poetic film, thought-provoking by moments, grotesque by others. It reminds of Michel Tremblay’s Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal and of L’Avalée des Avalés, a brilliant novel from Rejean Ducharme which is directly quoted in the film. It was written and directed by Québécois filmmaker Jean-Claude Lauzon, who died in a plane crash in the summer of 1997. “Leolo” is obviously a very personal film, and an fantastic one, too. It is packed with bizarre (and unforgettable) imagery: Leolo pleasuring himself with pork liver; a young girl chewing on an old man’s toenails; Leolo trying to kill his grampa with a hangman’s rope; a kid screwing a cat… It’s hard to describe a film life this. It’s undeniably very original, inventive and well crafted, and I like how Lauzon takes his time to get to his point. “Leolo” is a quirky, unique masterpiece, and possibly the best French Canadian film ever made.