Mini-Review: The Other Woman

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Other Woman

Natalie Portman and Charlie Tahan in The Other Woman (IFC Films)

A young woman deals with the difficulty of the loss of a child, a relationship with her stepson and being newly married.

This is a film which is interesting structurally and gives Portman a chance to really shine. When I saw the trailer it smacked of Stepmom but what I was hoping for was a lack schmaltzy melodrama. I got that but it was replaced by a lot of armchair psychology. There are some surprises and also good performances by Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan and Lisa Kudrow, who for the first time made me forget about Friends entirely until it was over. It just left me wanting a little but it was enjoyable.

7/10

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O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 3 – The Word Tamer)

The Word Tamer

WARNING: While I will do my best to avoid major spoilers this series of posts is an in depth examination of the film so it will be discussed at length. Reading about the film in distinct sections is not the same as seeing it clearly but forewarned is forearmed.

Like many things in this film, we don’t necessarily understand the Word Tamer’s role in the proceedings the second we see him. There’s nothing wrong with that. Any required exposition within the film is handled fairly head-on, though floridly, in narration. However, there’s not a need to do so immediately. There is a great sense of pacing and where things belong in this film. Though this is a tale more of a journey than a plot, one that might seem a bit loose, it does set-up and payoff very well, and it knows when to deliver that bit of necessary news.

With the Word Tamer (Pierre Bourgault) our learning that he digs through trash for words and images believing that “Images and words must mix with the ashes of poetry to be born in Man’s imagination” comes early on, if not immediately. The significance of his existence to the story as a whole, and the function he serves for our lead is information that becomes clearer later on. Sure, he could be seen merely as a conduit for the audience. The angry scribblings Léolo jots down and then feels the need to not keep, lest his family should see it and his life become even more untenable perhaps, could just disappear. We could suspend disbelief and say to ourselves “we have this window to his world, what need have we for the Word Tamer?”

However, what the Tamer is partially wish-fulfillment any adolescent who has ever scribbled his angst down about his life, and the ways of the world. Any such pubescent soul would’ve loved a receptive audience that appreciates our talents and also seemed to understand us and our views as we understand them.

This guardian angel-type isn’t a secret kept from Léolo, one that we the audience and the film share. Therefore, he may very well write and dispose of his writing so that the Tamer can read it. The Tamer also does step in on Leo’s behalf once and tries to better things for him. However, I will touch upon that later.

Is this character the element that lends the film its greatest sense of artistry and fantasy, and its largest burst of magical realism in one fell swoop? It may well be. His being the reader who engages in something akin to a game of telepathic telephone is what in a sense justifies the multiple utterances of certain phrases such that they come at near matra-like intervals. He also is shown storing Léolo’s pages at the end intimating that the tale might be read again and by others at some point.

For those who have seen it previously it may seem like I’m dressing the film up to be a bizarre sort of spin on The Neverending Story, but surely this character would not be the last image of the film were his having read the story been of no significance. Endings and beginnings are perhaps the most key in a film because you’re deciding what to tell the audience first and what to leave them with as they walk out the door.

Now there may be salvation or redemption of Léolo’s tale save for the fact that we know all the pages that he spilled ink upon them saying in the omnipresent human need “I am here and this is my story.” Or in the words of Gigolo Joe as he was captured in A.I. “I am, I was.”

Unlike a great many stories wherein adolescents go through tough trials there’s a sort of difference here. It has both to do with the tonality and the structure of Léolo. At first, you’re not sure where things will go, and second, you’re not sitting there hoping against hope for an escape or endgame already in mind such as in Pelle the Conqueror.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Pictures)

As such there is no movement towards our lead being more better understood. The Word Tamer tries to get Léolo’s teacher to talk to him about what he should read since he shows promise as a writer. One of the many quirks Léolo’s family is that there is only one book in the house (Rejean Ducharme’s L’avelee des Avales), which is used to balance out an uneven table. The teacher does not help the Word Tamer or Léo. Yet, due to this kindly altruist interested only in purity of emotion and the beauty of words he carries the tale to us. Léo lets us, the audience, into his heart, soul and mind. He examines these facets of his being, and his family as honestly as his biases allow. Due to that fact, and how he expresses himself he finds a willing reader, The Word Tamer, who passes him on to us.

This post is the third part of a series. Read part one here, part two here, and stay tuned for part four.

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 2 – Notions of Nationality)

Notions of Nationality

WARNING: While I will do my best to avoid major spoilers this series of posts is an in depth examination of the film so it will be discussed at length. Reading about the film in distinct sections is not the same as seeing it clearly but forewarned is forearmed.

The first thing Léolo (Maxime Collin) tells you about is the story of how he believes he came to be conceived. In a way it’s his creation myth, the only explanation, however illogical, that he can come up with for why he feels so different than the rest of his family.

Naturally, with one feeling so estranged from one’s family can lead to a sense that they come from some other country. With Léolo having grown up in the midst of his family, and never having moved, the only viable option that remains in his mind is that he himself is from some other nation; somehow, some way.

This notion struck me not only because this film is French-Canadian, and the national identity of its populous has always been nebulous as a whole – as evidenced by two tight independence referenda in the ’90s and political jockeying for another. The notion was also likely to strike me personally for an obvious reason. I am neither French nor Canadian I will not get too cute about what Léolo’s desire to be Italian says about the Quebecois.

However, it’s not coincidental that that Léo’s tale of a randy Italian tomato-picker, an accident wherein his mother stumbles upon the most unlikely tomato imaginable makes him Italian in his mind, and thus, a countryman of Bianca, his great unrequited love.

Due to the fact that his belief is that an anonymous Italian is unintentionally his father and not the man he shares a house with, he also insists on being called Léolo Lozone rather than Léo Lauzon. He is rarely taken seriously in this request.

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“Italy is too beautiful to belong only to the Italians” he says when talking about Italy and Bianca, whom to him is the country personified. This is portion wherein I feel some more identification. I am a dual citizen of the United States and Brazil. I think being a first generation American has made me very curious about the world and made me want to experience other cultures, at least vicariously, not only as an escape (though in my younger years it definitely was) but also for my own edification.

Léo’s world is a one of very small and dark corners; it’s his apartment, his tenement building, diving in the river, collecting papers. His neighborhood, in short, to a lesser extent Montréal as a whole. He is incessantly surrounded by things he wants to be freed of it’s not a wonder that a country he has never been to, landscapes he is imagining but may have never seen represented call out to him as a safe haven. In many ways, with a much different backdrop to grow up against I had that same longing for escapism in my adolescence. Sure, most adolescents do, but it’s the manifestation of such in this particular way that makes it a parallel.

One of the great and subtle touches of this film is how it uses his preferred name to put a bittersweet closing note on the relationship arc of Léolo and his mother (Ginette Reno). There are small moments when he shows his affection towards his mother. He writes of his true feelings with greater fervor than he shows her in real life. Though at times she was unable to understand all that went through her kids’ heads, and may have passively fought him on his desired name, at the end she calls him “Léolo” seeking to bring him back to consciousness. Whatever he calls himself she just wants him to stay. Léolo may have drifted off to a purgatory – how literally one should interpret closing events in the tale is debatable – what’s inarguable its that: because he gave up on his notion of heaven and gave up the will to fight, even with the supplications of his mother beckoning him back, he was lost.

However, the way this story unravels one would hear all he thought, hoped for, and feared.

This post is the second part of a series. Read part one here, stay tuned for part three.

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 1 – Introduction)

Introduction

Since I have started participating in blogathons I have created an heretofore unwritten rule: I try to limit myself to participating in one a month. There are two main reasons for this: first, they tend to run out-of-sync with what the main theme of my regularly-scheduled programming, and second I tend to go a bit overboard with a post much larger than I normally write with several headings and topics discussed.

As someone who in commemoration of Canada Day one year created a province-by-province cinematic map of Canada of films I had seen or would like to see, I am clearly one with an appreciation for Canadian cinema. In that very post I try and get to the heart of why:

I can’t exactly pinpoint where my fascination with all things Canadian began. Yes, I’ve always been obsessed with hockey, but this burgeoning affection during my childhood also coincided with many of my entertainment staples being either vaguely or blatantly made in Canada such as You Can’t Do That on Television, The Kids in the Hall, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and to an extent SCTV. Regardless, the affinity has always been there and since thanks both to the internet and internationally distributed calendars I’ve come to learn of Canada Day, and decided to compile at least the beginnings of a list.

Strictly speaking in film terms the interest in films made north of the border this was likely the genesis. I vividly remember the inception of The Independent Film Channel as for probably a bit more than a month I saw movies that marked me and that I would never forget. Sometimes they were 8 PM showcases, other times they were just in heavy rotation. Léolo is one of those movies.

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All I really wrote about it in that post, for being a very significant film to me I had to mention it, was:

A completely French-Canadian film (were my revisionist BAM Awards still legitimate would’ve won many awards) called Léolo. It’s a poetic, bizarre and unique tale of a young boy’s adolescence in 1970s Montreal. Sadly, this was the last vision Jean-Claude Lauzon brought to fruition as he tragically died in a plane crash in 1997.

So I always knew that it was a huge movie to me. Which is what would make writing about it quite the difficult task. As I sat down to revisit it for this blogathon that jumped out at me as the way to structure this post: enumerating and compartmentalizing the facets of this film that not only make it work but soar above so many others for me personally.

As I began to work on this piece I started to see it was going to be huge so I have decided to split this post into multiple parts over the course of the whole blogathon.

Without any further adieu, madames et monsieurs, I present to you Léolo Lauzon, or should I say signore e signori I present to you Léolo Lozone…