O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 5 – ”Parce que moi je rêve, moi je ne le suis pas.”)

“Parce que moi je rêve, moi je ne le suis pas.”

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.

One of the basic rules of thumb in filmmaking is the rule of three. Essentially, this is used for progressions and repetitions of key information that is needed to follow/interpret the film. However, as with any rule in art there are exceptions to this rule. Some work because they break said rule and some fail because they break said rule.

Léolo works in large part because of its insistence on breaking the rule of three when it comes to the repetition of the core philosophy of his being. In reading the only book accessible to him in the house Léo picks out a quote and believes it with every fiber of his being:

“Parce que moi je rêve, moi je ne le suis pas.”

It translates loosely to “Because I dream, I am not.” What exactly Léolo is not is open to interpretation and can change based on what he’s talking about before, but usually I take it mean “Because I dream, I am not like them.” “Them” usually means his family, but on occasion can be his classmates.

This phrase sometimes pops up being repeated three times in a row, but often when it crops back up into the narrative it is repeated with a mantra-like consistency. Sometimes in a number of voices alternating from the Narrator (Gilbert Sicotte) and the Word Tamer. It’s almost as if this chant is meant to ward off the demons that haunt and inhabit the rest of the family.

That mantra will be manipulated and toyed with as the story sees fit, and when it does it is quite a poignant comment on the turn-of-events it is underscoring.

This line struck me as being so powerful, and such a brilliant encapsulation not only of this film, but of an adolescent’s (or any rebellious soul really) thought process and state of mind that it has always stayed with me. As I have revisited the film it has become inextricably linked to the film. However, I’ve also gone back enough such that I was able to remember the name of the book (L’Avalée des avalés by Réjean Ducharme), and then research it.

L'Avalée des avalés (Folio)

Its availability is grossly limited in both French and English. However, I recently saw it crop up and I decided that it was time to test myself and try to give it a read. I started taking French in sixth grade and had it through the end of my junior year of high school. I became as proficient as one could be in school without an immersive experience. I returned to it to satisfy my minimal language requirement in college. However, the French you’re learning there is the unadorned, French from France. Not the version of the language spoken in Quebec. There are differences. Despite the fact that the only sizable text I read in French was The Little Prince, and I had to hit my dictionary frequently; I made it through 26 pages with fewer issues than I expected and was enjoying it. What stopped me was really lost momentum, and it was lost in the shuffle of my book juggling. I didn’t get to the famous line even. However, I may return to it again. It may not help balance my table, or be the only book that lives in my house, but because it lives with this movie it lives with me.

“Parce que moi je rêve, moi je ne le suis pas.”

This post is part five in a series. Parts one, two, three and four can be found here. Stay tuned for more.

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 4 – Bound by Odor and Light)

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.

In structuring this series on Léolo I could’ve combined this section with another which would encompass this film’s dealing with all biological functions that would perhaps capitalize on the zeitgeist of commentary and thinkpieces on the subject in light of Wetlands’ limited release. However, when dealing with Léolo they should be separated for one very curious reason: Typically when films do go into the uncommonly explored arena they are in the guise of private obsession or other unshared state of privation. However, when it comes to concerns of a scatalogical nature it is very much a family concern in this film, and again, it is an aspect of his family’s life that is touched upon fairly early in the story.

Basically, Léo informs us that the battle his mother picked to fight is that they only way to be healthy was to have regular bowel movements. This is illustrated in an early flashback where she is on the toilet and a toddler Léo is on the potty-training pot wailing. Outside rain falls, thunder crashes and the lighting and poetic voice-over paints a perfect portrait of of a childhood trauma.

It establishes a template for the nature of Léolo’s home life, particularly his relationship with his mother. But even this foible of the family has its plot points. When they are younger they are forced, as is said in the voice-over they are subjected to a “Shitting laxative shock treatment.” And it’s not only mom’s obsession. Dad swells with pride when Léo shows him a “big one.” As he ages he gets craftier, and has more freedom so he can fake it if he needs to.

While in some stories there are things better left unseen, if it serves a story and rendered with artistry nearly anything goes. While focusing an entire story on such aspects can be treacherous, if it fits in there’s no reason to avoid the bathroom.

Two Stephen King-related anecdotes encapsulate my thinking on the subject: first, in his memoir cum how-to-book On Writing King discussed that he has been asked by aspiring writers “When do the characters go to the bathroom?” His advice was: you can skip it, or if it matters you can say “so and so had to push” (his favorite euphemism from his younger days). Oddly, enough I first encountered odd reactions to setting any scene in a bathroom when I was filming a short film based on King’s Suffer the Little Children. A passerby at the college we used as a location thought filming in a bathroom was the funniest thing in the world. It does happen. People use the bathroom and sometimes it matters in a film. That encounter may have been the seed that lead to my wanting to craft a whole one act play set in a bathroom.

As for Léolo, in a building, and a family such as his, quarters are fairly close so to a certain extent things are shared. It seems unlikely that he is the only one who urinates off the balcony. He’s probably just the only one who insists on being called by his Italian name when being yelled at by neighbors for it.

The bathroom escapades also play into a narrative frame wherein a sense of the family is building. Again set-ups and payoffs. In one way or another, odd or conventional, this film closes the narrative circles it opens up.

This post is part four in a series. Parts one, two and three can be found here. Stay tuned for more.