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.